Power and Cooling Top of Mind at Dell

Most manuals of data center best practices emphasize system availability and space requirement planning. While both are still vital, other factors appear to be taking precedence.

“Cooling and power are eclipsing space and availability as the main concern of data center managers,” said Andreas Antonopoulos, an analyst at New York City-based IT research firm Nemertes Research.

Dell found out the truth of those words recently. It has been aware for some time that its principal data center at corporate headquarters in Round Rock, Texas, consumed a massive amount of power. The extent of the utility bills, in fact, motivated Dell CTO Kevin Kettler to analyze the specifics of energy consumption in detail.

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“Power and thermal demands are now top of mind,” said Kettler. “Our solution was to drive for maximum efficiency by looking at all areas: clients, silicon, software, infrastructure and management.”

When he dug in to total power consumption he discovered something far from unexpected—that IT equipment was the largest consumer of power. What wasn’t anticipated, however, was how much power consumption was being lost in distributing power around the room and in taking care of the cooling demands of the data center.

“While 41 percent of our total power went to IT equipment, another 28 percent was consumed in power distribution and 31 percent went to cooling,” said Kettler.

Most people would have been happy with that insight and would then have taken steps to reduce power distribution losses or found ways to lessen the cooling bill. But Dell took things a couple of steps further.

First, the company looked in more detail into the exact make up of IT equipment consumption. Once again, the results showed something predictable on the one hand—that servers were the main energy hogs—but also coughed up yet more surprises—that communication gear was also a significant drawer of power.

“Within the IT equipment category, 40 percent of power was consumed by servers,” said Kettler. “But we also found that 37 percent went to storage arrays and other storage gear, and that 23 percent went to communications or networking gear.”

For the final step of the analysis, Dell drilled down more into the server category. Everyone knows, of course, that CPUs are the power villains inside any server. And the analysis proved that out. CPUs used 31% of the power. But other components were also significant power drinkers. Memory, for instance, tied up six percent of server power and hard disk drives took up 13%.

Kettler’s conclusion is one that CIO’s and CTO’s everywhere should take to heart. It helped him form a more holistic approach to data center power and cooling management.

“We realized that the processor takes up only six percent of the total power in our data center,” said Kettler. “Power management is clearly not just about AMD v. Intel.”