You don't have to shout at a hard disk drive to affect its performance, even though it might get you a lot of hits on YouTube. But can noise reduction in the data center translate into storage performance gains? And if so, are companies willing to pay a premium to fix the problem?
Startup Green Platform Computing has developed server racks that can minimize the impact of noise-related vibration on disk performance. The company's rack was a finalist in the "Audacious Idea" category in last week's Green IT Awards, losing to Microsoft's container data centers. But now the company is working to educate users about the issues associated with data center noise, hoping to make its offering seem a tad less audacious.
Shouting in the Data Center
The impact of noise on spinning storage disks was demonstrated last year by Brendan Gregg of Sun Microsystems, who showed that shouting next to working racks can cause significant disk latency. A video of the demo received more than 600,000 views on YouTube.
Green Platform says its product can mitigate shouting noise, but is addressing a broader problem. "We’re talking about everyday vibration as a degradation issue, not a failure issue," said Larry Gordon, vice president of marketing for Green Platform. "Hard drives are susceptible to vibration, and vibration is a big problem for data centers. We're talking about common, ambient vibration. Metal racks transmit and magnify vibration. Our rack dissipates vibrations."
Green Platform's AVR (Anti-Vibration Rack) enclosures are made of engineered plastics and carbon fiber, which allow it to dissipate vibrations at all frequencies. "Our solution creates a calm environment for hard drives," said Gordon.
Background in Vibration Mitigation
Green Platform Computing was founded in 2008 by CEO Gus Malek-Madani, who previously founded Composite Products, which designs carbon fiber anti-vibration racks for upscale audio setups, especially those using turntables. Green Platform and Composite Products share an address in Mountain View, Calif.
Malek-Madani says his enclosures were tested last year in a lab at Sun Microsystems, and are currently available for pilot installations. "We’re manufacturing them in small quantities right now and looking for funding so we can manufacture on a larger scale," he said. Green Platform is pitching its product to OEMs like NetApp, HP and EMC, who could use the anti-vibration enclosures in large shipments, when equipment is often pre-positioned in racks.
Companies will need to pay a premium for the improved performance. "We’re more expensive, obviously," said Malek-Madani, who said Green Platform's AVR racks could run four to five times the price of a standard metal rack. "But when you look at a rack of storage, the average rack of storage costs about $700,000. We think we can perform twice as well as storage and metal racks."
What About SSDs?
Another option for addressing vibration-related storage issues would be to switch to solid state drives (SSDs), which have no moving parts and have shown the ability to withstand severe shaking.
"According to all the research we’ve read, (the transition to SSD storage) won’t happen in the next 10 years," said Malek-Madani. "We think spinning drives are going to be around for a while, and our solution makes them more manageable."
Gordon says that adoption of Green Platform's products will require new thinking. "Up until now, a rack has been seen as just a piece of furniture," he said. "But our racks are a performance enhancer. When disk drives vibrate, they have to work harder. You shouldn’t shake and compute. It wastes money, resources and energy. What we are really doing is allowing you to do more in the existing space."