Power Problems Plague Users

Storage managers face unprecedented requirements for electrical power

November 4, 2006

4 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Storage managers are ordering more hardware and software than ever before, but as data protection needs ramp, so do the requirements for environmental support. And electrical power tops the list.

"Power consumption is an issue. You've got to strike a balance between power and density," says Gabriel Sandu, director of technical services for Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. As storage systems pack more disk arrays in smaller form factors, their power requirements may actually go up.

"If people are not concerned about power consumption now, they should be or will be soon," says analyst Greg Schulz of the StorageIO consultancy. "You can concentrate power and footprint loading without reducing power requirements."

That consolidation of equipment doesn't equate to lower power consumption was a hallmark lesson learned by early adopters of blade servers, who struggled to keep cooling and power on par with rackmount servers. (See NewEnergy Chops Its Blades, Study Highlights Blade Disappointment, and Are Blades Cutting It?)

How can users best cope? Aside from common-sense tactics like shutting off lights, grouping equipment for optimal cooling, and so forth, Schulz suggests keeping an eye on the results of consolidation. Part of this might include checking out how projects figure in "per square foot" calculations. Installing blade servers and rackmounted storage should result in improved terabytes per square foot, weight per square foot, even IOPS per square foot. If too much density results, though, there can be environmental and performance problems that detract from the equation.Concerns about power have been fueling vendor pitches for months now, and the growth has spurred a few to imaginative new claims. Craig Nunes, VP of marketing at 3PARdata, for instance, says the vendor's use of thin provisioning allows customers to save on power costs. Here's how: 3PAR has sold 12 petabytes of capacity, with which customers have provisioned 30 petabytes total. Nunes calculates that this represents annualized energy savings of nearly $3 million for 3PAR customers, based on average energy costs.

Not everyone is convinced that power consumption can be salvaged by thin provisioning, virtualization, or other techniques being touted by vendors. One storage consumer who works for a large aerospace firm says these tools may indeed help save power costs, but he's not willing to risk downtime trying to find out. He simply takes the time-worn route to safety. "Power is always a concern. You have to plan ahead for double or triple what you need."

Loss of power is also an issue facing storage managers, thanks to saturated power grids, increased utility costs, and the potential of natural disasters. All these are well known factors that have become year-round concerns instead of seasonal ones, as data centers load up on storage and servers. (See Summer Storage Survival.)

Ask storage managers in Florida: "We can lose power on a clear, sunny, day - we have had to rely on our failover several times," said Charlie Pelton, the CIO of Clearwater-based Market Street Mortgage, in a keynote presentation at SNW Tuesday. A self-contained generator is part of the firm's disaster plan.

And Glenn Exline, manager of advanced technology at defense contractor Raytheon, explained that at Patrick Air Force Base, home of the 45th Space Wing, which is located on the Florida coast, storm surge is a major worry, since it can knock out power lines. A category 4 hurricane, for example, could raise water levels by up to 14 feet."Expect power issues and secondary flooding," he warned attendees at SNW, adding that, in this scenario, he relocates his data center from the first to the third floor of its building.

Other weather issues can cause power problems. Clif Morgan, the former technical support manager at Oxford University Press (OUP), now director for managed services firm Citadel Perimeter, described some of the problems at the publisher's disaster recovery site in Cary, N.C. "We had a huge ice storm in 2003 –- it knocked out power for 3 days," he said.

Ironically, this scenario ultimately worked in Morgan's favor. Shortly before the ice storm, he told Byte and Switch, the "powers that be" had rejected his request for an additional generator: "They put the budget back in for the generator, and they put it in for the current [fiscal] year, so that we could get it in before the hurricane season."

— Mary Jander, Site Editor, and James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • 3PAR Inc.

  • The StorageIO Group0

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