By Dean Nelson on Jul 20, 2008
On April 2, 2007 I met Ray Pfiefer from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG). He was soliciting help in datacenter demonstration projects for SVLG. On May 21, 2007 I signed us up to host a demonstration project to compare cooling products for datacenters. We were undergoing a major consolidation and had the perfect environment to be able to host these tests. At that point I didn't realize how much we had signed up for.
Over the next year we coordinated the testing of five differant modular, closely coupled cooling solutions. It was dubbed the "Chill-Off". Brian Day, my chief of staff, was the program manager, Mike Ryan assisted in all of the mechanical/electrical details, Serena Devito coordinated all server and network needs, and Eric Garcia was the technican that racked, reracked and put the sweat into getting the tests setup. Power Assure did the server characterization and load testing. Modius did the measurement of over 1500 points, collecting over 40 million measurements. Tim Xu from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) was the independent party that defined the testing methodology then executed the tests and reported the results. The participants were Liebert XD, APC InRow, Rittal LCP+, IBM/Vette Cool Blue and Spraycool chip-level cooling. For this test we decided not to use new, high efficient equipment. We used older V20 Sun servers to create a more hostile environment for the solutions.
My goal in hosting this test was to get to find out how efficient these devices really were. We design datacenters all over the world and talk to customers and peers building datacenters almost every day. I was tired of hearing the marketing hype, opinions and posiitioning of these solutions. I wanted an independent test that could be shared with the industry so we all could make our own call on which one will solve the problem.
The effort payed off. On June 26, 2008, we hosted the SVLG Data Center Energy Summit on our Santa Clara, CA campus. We had over 300 datacenter customers and industry professionals show up to hear the results of this test as well as 10 others. I had purposely not looked at any of the results during the test. I waited until the draft reports were finished and reviwed them just like my peers and customers would. I then took what I gleaned from the reports and created a simplified presentation of the findings. I told the paricipating vendors that I wanted to spice the presentation up. The people didn't come to hear me talk, they came to get content to help them make informed decisions. So, I decided to present a quick history, have Tim describe the testing methodology, show a single results slide comparing the vendors and then conclusions. I got through this as quickly as I could and then called representatives from each of the companies on stage for a panel debate. I prepared a list of questions to ask them that would give them a chance to defend their results and spark debate. It was a blast. To give you an example, I asked Rittal why their numbers were so much higher than the others. I asked Liebert and APC to tell me why I would buy one of their products since they tied. I also asked all the vendors why we wouldn't just raise the inlet temperatures of the all the IT equipment to 80+ F degrees, use economizers and eliminate the need for their modular products. That one was fun. All of the vendors took my questions and attempts to increase the debate very well. I was hoping for more fireworks, but it was a great session. The audience was very receptive to the format and the questions.
You can get a copy of my presentation here (pdf format). You can get the final Accenture/SLVG report here. All of the case studies can be found here including our Modular Cooling Test, the Chill Off. In the end, I found a number things that stood out the most for me in this test.
- All of the modular cooling solutions are more efficient than traditional datacenter designs.
- As an industry, we need to keep pushinng the inlet temperatures higher. Our server fans did not kick into higher speed even with an inlet temperature of 80 degrees F.
- If we can get these temperatures higher, it opens a huge amount of the world to economizers.
- The collaboration and effort from all involved was incredible, even from from fierce competitors.
Lastly, I realized that we have just started. We need to continue these collaborative tests and challenge each other to push the envelope. At the end of the presentation & panel, I put the challenge out to our competitors and partners. Lets get more equipment and more solutions side by side in Chill-off 2. Containers, ducting, mixed vendor hardware loads and locations, highly optimized equipment via virtualization, raised air and water temperatures, 30kw loads, plus what ever we can come up with. I want to drive more independent content so that everyone who is contemplating datacenter construction or retrofits will be able to make informed decisions.
I will be soliciting input via a roundtable at the next AFCOM Northern California chapter meeting. Stay tuned for details. If you are not an AFCOM member, please contact Craig Easley (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get set up. I'm looking forward to an even better event next year.
PS. I gave a tour to some reporters and industry analysts the morning of the SVLG event. One of the reporters posted a video of the tour on youtube. Check out the two parts of the tour here.
PSS. Deborah Grove, from Grove Associates, interviewed some of the presentors during the SVLG event. See the summary video here.