A Texas server cen­ter takes a cue from the cloud

A data cen­ter com­pany tries to work more like Ama­zon’s cloud “The mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem knows if there is an idle server or rack”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - Contents - −Karen A. Frenkel

Just as of­fice ten­ants pay for square footage based on how many work­ers they ex­pect to em­ploy, the $200 bil­lion data cen­ter in­dus­try charges cus­tomers based on how much space their servers oc­cupy and how much power they plan to use. Data cen­ter cus­tomers, how­ever, tend to over­es­ti­mate, ask­ing and pay­ing for more servers than they need. They then wind up with so-called co­matose servers that may sit idle for months. Some 30 per­cent of the world’s servers are go­ing un­used at any given mo­ment, wast­ing about $30 bil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to a June es­ti­mate by Stan­ford and An­the­sis Con­sult­ing Group.

By con­trast, the pub­lic clouds of Ama­zon.com and Google give cus­tomers the flex­i­bil­ity to pay as they go, rather than com­mit­ting to a cer­tain use of pro­cess­ing power up­front. A new $300 mil­lion, 100,000-square-foot data cen­ter in Plano, Texas, is the first to take a cue from the pub­lic clouds by sim­i­larly let­ting ten­ants pay for com­put­ing power based on ac­tual use. The cen­ter’s owner, Aligned En­ergy, says it should be able to save cus­tomers 30 per­cent to 50 per­cent a year in data stor­age costs.

To help ac­com­mo­date the dis­counts, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Jakob Carne­mark says Aligned has adapted hard­ware and de­vel­oped soft­ware that will keep its fa­cil­i­ties run­ning more ef­fi­ciently—and take note of any servers go­ing un­used. Only 1 in 5 data cen­ter servers are be­ing fully used at any time, he says. “Given that mas­sive level of waste, there’s a real op­por­tu­nity for us.”

Aligned has bor­rowed ma­te­ri­als de­vel­oped for mo­bile de­vices to im­prove its cool­ing sys­tems. An alu­minum heat sink, mod­eled on the dif­fu­sion tech­nol­ogy found in smart­phones, helps dras­ti­cally re­duce the servers’ need for air con­di­tion­ing and es­pe­cially wa­ter, the com­pany says. Most large data cen­ters use about 1 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter a day, but Carne­mark says his can get by on as lit­tle as 150,000 gal­lons even while pack­ing in servers more tightly than ri­vals do.

Soft­ware made by Aligned and in­stalled on each server ac­tively mon­i­tors the cool­ing sys­tems, making it eas­ier to re­spond to alarms or spot when a ma­chine isn’t get­ting a full work­out. Last year, Len­ovo bought copies of the soft­ware to help retro­fit its data cen­ters in Santa Clara, Calif., and Mor­risville, N.C. Len­ovo tech­ni­cal project man­ager Erin Bolduc says the move has saved the plants 60 per­cent to 80 per­cent in power costs be­cause of in­creased en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. “The

mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem knows if there is an idle server or rack, so we don’t cool more than we have to,” she says. And with­out the air con­di­tion­ing on full blast at all times, “peo­ple are com­fort­able and don’t have to wear win­ter jack­ets.”

Carne­mark, who’s worked in data cen­ters for 25 years, founded Aligned in Dan­bury, Conn., in 2013 with veter­ans of the soft­ware and cool­ing busi­nesses and undis­closed ven­ture fund­ing from Blue­Moun­tain Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment. “We saw a need in the mar­ket­place to cre­ate a more elas­tic model,” he says. “Again and again, we saw clients would have to over­pro­vi­sion.” The Plano data cen­ter went on­line in Novem­ber. Carne­mark says it will take more than two years for the 120-em­ployee com­pany to turn a profit.

Aligned’s more ef­fi­cient model should ap­peal to bou­tique soft­ware or health­care com­pa­nies that don’t need dozens of data cen­ters, says Rick Vil­lars, vice pres­i­dent for data cen­ter and cloud re­search at re­searcher IDC. But even with all of the added ef­fi­cien­cies, Vil­lars says, it may be tough for Aligned to con­sis­tently un­der­bid cloud stor­age com­pa­nies or, con­versely, woo IT heads leery of mov­ing their data some­where new. Data cen­ters will have to be­come more stan­dard­ized, he says, be­fore clients can “truly take ad­van­tage of th­ese en­ergy ef­fi­cien­cies.”

Carne­mark says he’s not con­cerned about find­ing a place in the mar­ket, given the grow­ing needs for com­put­ing power. The data cen­ter in­dus­try— com­pa­nies that house client data on dis­crete servers, un­like the cloud— can ac­com­mo­date less than a third of the world’s stor­age needs, and by 2020 it will be less than 15 per­cent, es­ti­mates equip­ment maker EMC. For now, Carne­mark says, he’s fo­cused on open­ing a sec­ond pay-as-you-go data cen­ter, in Phoenix later this year, fol­lowed by more in Cal­i­for­nia, Illi­nois, New Jer­sey, and Vir­ginia. “Data cen­ters are the fastest-grow­ing users of power and wa­ter,” he says. “That’s un­sus­tain­able.”

The bot­tom line At its $300 mil­lion fa­cil­ity in Texas, Aligned En­ergy is pitch­ing me­tered use as a bet­ter model for the data cen­ter in­dus­try.

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