NewEnergy Chops Its Blades

Energy consultancy replaces Intel blade servers and grows storage to cut costs

November 11, 2005

4 Min Read
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Energy consulting firm NewEnergy expects to shave almost a quarter of a million dollars off its IT budget -- in part by throwing away its blade servers and growing its storage network.

The urge to save heat and power in data centers in Houston and Atlanta motivated Neal Tisdale, NewEnergys vice president of software development, to start replacing 29 different Intel-based servers with three of Sun’s new AMD Opteron-based Galaxy servers. (See Sun Spawns Galaxy.) “Our overall saving for heat, power, and staff is going to be in the region of $225,000,” Tisdale says.

In Houston, a total of 23 servers from Dell and various third-party resellers are being replaced with just two Sun Fire X4200 servers. In Atlanta, the firm will replace six Dell blade servers with a single Sun Fire box.

Ironically, NewEnergy is enhancing its storage while shrinking its server infrastructure. Currently, the consultancy has an 18-Tbyte LeftHand Networks disk array, but this is set to expand. Tisdale plans to add about three more Tbytes of disk “before the end of the calendar year.”

Tisdale explains that virtualization is also playing a major part in NewEnergy’s drive to reduce heat and power, with the Galaxy servers as the key enabler. “They have the horsepower to emulate many servers at one time,” he says. This horsepower, adds the exec, is lacking in the blade servers.This is particularly important in Texas. “Houston screamed for virtualization,” explains Tisdale. Many of the Houston servers are used by NewEnergy’s developers to support customer sites, he adds, although the servers themselves are “infrequently used.”

Tisdale says that the Galaxy servers, running VMware’s virtualization software, are also more reliable. “If a Galaxy fails, we can run the virtualization (software) and shift to another Galaxy.”

NewEnergy performs CPU-intensive grid simulations for more than 240 energy customers, mirroring real-world electric grids in order to plan for potential disasters. The new Galaxy servers will run large Oracle-based simulation programs, says Tisdale.

Up to now, Tisdale says the computing load has turned blade servers into weapons of mass dissipation. “In Atlanta we’re at our heat and power envelope,” he says. “The blade servers generate huge amounts of heat.”

According to Tisdale, new servers' AMD Opteron chips use significantly less power and heat than their Intel counterparts. Based on his firm’s research, Tisdale estimates that a single AMD Opteron-based server can slash power usage by as much as 79 percent and reduce heat output by up to 84 percent when compared to eight Intel servers.Intel referred Byte and Switch’s request for comment on this story to Dell, which in turn declined to comment.

Not everyone sees things Tisdale's way. Brigham Young University, for example, recently built a massive cluster of Dell blade servers to support a range of research projects, and the school is considering adding another blade cluster. (See BYU Flashes Its Blades and BYU Installs Dell Clusters.)

That said, there's nothing new about users sending out mixed messages about the value of blade servers. On the one hand, some IT managers see the technology as “costly and immature,” whereas others are wowed by the ability to fit a large number of servers into a tight space. (See Are Blades Cutting It?, Study Highlights Blade Disappointment, and Blades for Buffalo .)

By replacing the blades, Tisdale fits the former category. He feels that he has dodged a heat-seeking bullet. “I don’t have to buy a new air conditioning system, and I don’t have to buy a new UPS [uninterruptible power supply] at 40 to 60 thousand dollars each.”

Although NewEnergy uses Dell machines elsewhere in its IT infrastructure, Tisdale is unlikely to redeploy the 30 Intel-based servers. He fears they could tip the delicate power and heat balance in his data centers. "The rumor is that we’re going to Ebay them or maybe give them to a local charity.”Meanwhile, NewEnergy has five more Sun Fire X4200 servers on order, and Tisdale told Byte and Switch that his total outlay for the eight machines has been “roughly $60,000.”

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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