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This Startup Wants to Do to Data Center Power What VMware Did to Servers

Virtual Power Systems CEO Steve Houck on The Data Center Podcast

Today, overprovisioning is the unfortunate reality in most of the world’s data centers. Because the traditional design approach to unpredictable changes in workloads over the course of a facility’s life has been to build in large buffers, and because the approach to maintaining uptime has been to essentially install two of everything, a typical server farm runs with more power and more cooling capacity than it ever actually uses. Additionally, UPS batteries store large volumes of energy that’s rarely utilized -- again, it's there just in case.

This is similar to how computing resources were used before VMware and the advent of server virtualization. Data centers went from one application per server, often utilizing a small fraction of the machine’s capacity, to what can now be north of 1,000 virtual machines per single physical host, taking full advantage of all the muscle inside the expensive iron.

A four-year-old Silicon Valley startup is taking a similar approach to maximizing data center power utilization. Milpitas-based Virtual Power Systems’ software enables data center managers to dynamically provision power to individual racks. If a rack needs 2kW today, that’s what it gets; if it needs 5kW tomorrow, it will quickly get more juice. That additional 3kW would be doing useful work elsewhere in the facility, where it had been needed, before being re-provisioned. VPS also says its software can change a rack’s availability profile on the fly. A 2N electrical redundancy setup can be switched to N or N+1 and back, as uptime requirements of the applications in the rack change.

Backed by Data Collective, Exfinity Ventures, and Dolby Family Ventures, the company is generating a lot of interest among some of the world’s largest data center operators. It currently has proof-of-concept projects running with the likes of Uber, SAP, and Equinix, Steve Houck, the startup's CEO, told us in an interview for The Data Center Podcast. It’s also in discussions with Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, and Alibaba, he said.

Houck, a VMware veteran, joined VPS last year, after Shankar Ramamurthy, the company’s charismatic but not quite universally loved founding CEO, stepped back to focus on leading the technology vision.

The promise of VPS's technology for those operating data centers to support their own applications is substantial reduction in capital and operational costs. The more runway you get out of your existing infrastructure, the less you have to spend on building new data centers.

The promise for colocation providers is much bigger. According to Houck, using the technology can enable them to raise the level of discussion with clients to a point where they can compete more effectively against the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Instead of talking with customers about power, cooling, cages, and floor space, they could be talking about application performance and availability, he explained.

For a more nuanced explanation of what VPS does and what trends in the data center industry are making such technology necessary, listen to the latest episode of The Data Center Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or SoundCloud.

Stream from SoundCloud right here:

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