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Power Surpasses Cooling as Top Concern

The availability and price of electricity has become the number one concern for data center operators, according to Gartner surveys.

The availability and price of electricity has become the number one concern for data center operators, according to surveys at least week's Gartner Data Center Conference in Las Vegas. Power moved ahead of its close cousin, data center cooling, as the number one pain point for attendees at last week's event at the MGM Grand. Forty seven percent of respondents cited power availability as their top concern, an increase of 14 points from a similar survey last year. "Insufficient cooling," which topped the 2006 survey with 35 percent, slipped to second at 27 percent.

"We are in the midst of a crisis," said Gartner Research VP Paul McGluckin. "The cost of power will absolutely become a huge issue. Even if you don't have to pay for the power, the power costs being visible (in the enterprise) will have implications."

McGluckin led a panel outlining Gartner's research on power and cooling along with Gartner Managing VP David Cappuccio, who said relief on these issues is not imminent.

"During the next several years an increasing number of data centers will have insufficient power and cooling capacity to meet the demands of high-density equipment," said Cappuccio. "By 2011 there will be products and facilities engineering innovations that will significantly mitigate this problem."

In the meantime, data center operators will cope by continuing to expand their infrastructure. Thirty seven percent of attendees at the session said they would be relocating from their current data centers to another facility, while 33 percent will expand an existing site, and 16 percent will renovate their current facility. Just 5 percent of respondents said they would outsource their data center operations to a third-party provider.

An audience poll on cooling strategies found that 48 percent were using computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units; 26 percent were combining CRAC units with specialty cooling such as in-row, in-rack and liquid cooling; and eight percent were using entirely specialty cooling.

The Gartner analysts outlined a number of strategies for mitigating power and cooling issues. McGluckin noted the importance of using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to model temperatures and air flow within your data center. "There was a time when this was an esoteric gearhead kind of thing, but not anymore," he said. "It's well worth the cost to identify potential hot spots ahead of time. If your consultant doesn't think it's necessary, get another vendor who will assist you with this."

McGluckin also recommended reviewing data center temperature set points. "Don't make your data center into a meat locker. Most of us are running the data center too cold. Computers, by and large, can be run substantially warmer, sometimes 3-4 degrees warmer, than they are today. This is low-hanging fruit. You don't need special cooling or to redesign your data center."