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Carnegie Mellon researchers attack rising costs of Data Center Operations

Carnegie Mellon Universtity : 04 August, 2006  (Technical Article)
Carnegie Mellon University researchers today announced the creation of the Data Center Observatory, a dual-purpose facility that is both a working data center and a research vehicle for the study of data center automation and efficiency. The university held a DCO lab dedication today at its Collaborative Innovation Center (4720 Forbes Avenue) that included representatives from the university, American Power Conversion, local business leaders and select members of the news media.
The DCO is a large-scale collaborative effort between Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering and School of Computer Science. It also includes participation from a number of industry and government partners, including APC, which is providing engineering expertise and its InfraStruXure system for powering, cooling, racking and managing equipment in the DCO.

The DCO's principle research goals are to better comprehend and mitigate human administration costs and complexities, power and cooling challenges, and failures and their consequences. It also aims to understand resource utilization patterns and opportunities to reduce costs by sharing resources among users.

Energy efficiency is one of the center's major thrusts. For some time now, the amount of power consumed by commodity servers has been increasing, as has the number of servers placed in a facility.

'These large clusters of power-hungry machines, along with rising energy prices, are generating huge energy bills, forcing data center owners nationwide to seek more energy-efficient solutions,' said Greg Ganger, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Parallel Data Lab, a Carnegie Mellon organization specializing in the study of storage systems. To tackle these issues, university researchers are working with APC to develop new ways to reduce energy demands in data centers.

Administration costs are another major research thrust. Data centers are complex to operate and require significant human administration support.

'Anecdotally, we know that human costs are a dominant part of the total cost of ownership for data centers, but exactly where people spend their time isn't well understood. One of the things that makes the DCO so interesting is that, for the first time, university researchers will be able to study human costs and efficiencies in a working data center,' said Bill Courtright, executive director of the PDL.

'APC is extremely delighted to partner with Carnegie Mellon, one of the finest institutions in the world for computer engineering education and research, on this important data center initiative,' said Dwight Sperry, APC vice president of Enterprise Systems and Business Networks. 'We look forward to working with Carnegie Mellon to help them solve the many challenges of designing and deploying high-density data centers in the future. The Data Center Observatory faces many of the challenges common to all data center planners, such as space constraints, cooling high-density systems and the unpredictability of future growth. APC's InfraStruXure offers a space-saving, scalable, redundant, and pay-as-you-grow modular design that addresses all these concerns and delivers it at a lower total cost of ownership compared to legacy systems.'

The 2,000-square-foot DCO has the ability to support 40 racks of computers, which would consume energy at a rate of up to 774 kW, more than the rate of consumption of 750 average-sized homes. In addition to studying dense computing environments, the DCO will support a variety of Carnegie Mellon research activities, from data mining to CAD/architecture, visualization and real networked services. The DCO joins Carnegie Mellon's long tradition of weaving infrastructure research into campus life, which keeps the university at the forefront of technology.
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