Attention, data center managers: Copy these innovations

From cooling tips to advice on where to locate your data center, tech giants share the lessons learned during recent builds

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Google uses a transformer to convert energy from utility power lines before the power is sent to servers. Traditionally, individual power supplies have converted the voltage from AC to DC, but that tack has proven to be inefficient, industry experts agree.

David Cappuccio, a data center analyst at Gartner, says, "Google, Facebook and many others have begun reducing the number of AC/DC conversions from when power hits the building to when it's delivered to the servers," he says. This can take the form of DC-based power distribution systems that move the conversion away from individual servers and to the tops of each rack. Typically this shaves a few percentage points off energy use, he explains.

Google also uses power supplies in servers and voltage regulators that are 93% efficient, he says. To make more efficient regulators would be prohibitively expensive.

Data center

"We use a single-output power supply for a 12-volt rail that draws virtually no power when it is charged. The back-up draw is less than 1% as opposed to a typical draw of 15% or more," says Weihl, citing the EPA estimates on typical data center energy draw.

Another interesting Google technology involves custom software tools for managing data sets. Weihl says much of the data center management is automated with tools that help find out why a server is drawing too much power or how it may be misconfigured. The company uses a proprietary system called Big Table that stores tabular data sets and allows IT managers to find detailed information about server performance.

Google claims that its data centers are at an overall efficiency overhead of 19%, compared to the EPA estimate of 96% for most data centers. (The overhead percentage indicates how much power is used for heating and cooling IT gear rather than to run the servers; a lower percentage is better.)

Cisco and the "downsized upgrade"

Like other organizations, Cisco has implemented the concept of a "downsized upgrade" achieved through virtualization and consolidation. The process involves reducing the overall size of the data center and compacting equipment into a smaller chassis to save energy, but at the same time actually increasing the performance of the data center.

At Cisco's new data center in Allen, Texas, for instance, the company mapped out enough space for a massive cluster of computers that can scale with rapid growth. The basic concept: Cram as much power into a small space and still get high performance.

Cisco data center
The uninterruptible power supply room in Cisco's new data center in Allen, Texas. Source: Cisco.

Essentially, a cluster by Cisco's definition is a rack with five Cisco UCS (Unified Computing System) chassis. In each chassis there are eight server blades. In the Allen data center as a whole, there is a potential to have 14,400 blades. Each blade has two sockets, which can support eight processor cores. Each core supports multiple virtualized OS instances.

To date, Cisco has installed 10 clusters, which hold 400 blades.

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