New iron for old! Why legacy technology is bad for the environment – and your wallet

How Huawei’s solutions green the data centre and drive operational efficiencies


Sponsored An individual chunk of data may cost less than ever in monetary terms, but electricity is still needed to process, transmit and store it, whether it is a song, a video conference or a database.

There are growing environmental concerns about the world’s unquenchable thirst for data, with global internet traffic expected to double to 4.2 zettabytes (4.2 trillion GB) annually by 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.

Internet traffic surged by almost 40 per cent just between February and mid-April 2020, as locked down workers and consumers turned to digital services; that was on top of a 12-fold increase in internet traffic in the previous decade.

It's a tribute to the tech industry’s efforts that data centres and transmission networks share of global electricity use has been relatively flat at around two per cent for the last decade.

But the combination of AI, the internet of things, and 5G, together with the digital demands of businesses and consumers, means that data and digital services will continue to show exponential growth.

Technology leaders need to consider how they will meet this demand, without costing the earth, financially or environmentally. They also need to do this in sync with their organisations’ digital transformation, whether that includes overhauling ecommerce and supply chains by deploying analytics and AI, embracing the internet of things or supporting increasingly dispersed workforces.

It’s one thing to feel that older architecture will throw up problems for any organisation, particularly when it comes to support ongoing digital transformation efforts. It’s perhaps another to pinpoint the precise reasons why and begin to work around them.

Sometimes new really is improved

It is entirely intuitive that older kit is likely to be less efficient. This is Moore’s Law writ large, with newer generations of silicon delivering more compute power, more efficiently. Similarly, flash-based storage, with no moving parts, will be far more energy efficient than its spinning predecessors. This might seem like an easy win for reducing power consumption.

But in reality, this might be just a green mirage. There very rapidly comes a point when the management headaches and cost of upgrading individual components delivers little return when other components prevent you exploiting them to the full. For example, adding all flash arrays may reduce the power draw attributable to storage, but a slow network can still leave your CPUs woefully under-utilised.

More specifically, having an array of components with their own management systems can work against one of the key aims of digital transformation, namely automation. This wastes further time and (human) energy, which could be directed to ensuring that your components are better utilised – or indeed used at all.

This lack of management visibility is one of the contributing factors to the well-documented phenomenon of zombie servers – computers, and virtual machines, that are sat in data centres, but which have not performed any useful “compute” for six months or more. Identifying such machines is a management and measurement challenge. All the while, they are still on, absorbing power directly, as well as adding to the energy demand of your cooling system, and taking up valuable real estate.

Moving up a level, you face the question of how you manage the overall power infrastructure that maintains the core hardware in your data centre.

It is common to talk about holistic approaches when considering environmental strategies. When it comes to data centres and data transmission, solving the problem of future power demands a unified approach to ensure that installations are green - both at the beginning of their lives, and throughout their operation.

The hyperscale data centres of cloud giants like Facebook and Google show one approach. They have certainly worked hard on automation, on identifying carbon neutral energy suppliers, and on choosing locations that are intrinsically easier to cool.

How we can all turn green

But not everyone has the advantage of virtually unlimited budget, engineering expertise or unlimited land.

So, what are the options for the rest of us?

For first steps in thinking about how to make your data centre green, it is worth working through the formula laid out by Jens Struckmeier, founder and CTO of Cloud&Heat Technologies GmbH.

These include conducting a baseline energy audit for current and future energy usage, drilling down into individual systems. Then you should consider appropriate materials and environmental attributes, from locally sourced materials and energy, and easy wins such as using LED lighting, to looking at alternative energy for power and cooling.

Then comes prioritising the reduction of power usage. With servers accounting for 60 per cent of payload power, eliminating those zombie servers, consolidating and virtualizing workloads, and replacing older kit, can all have a big impact.

The last two factors go beyond the iron. First, Struckmeier advises, you should optimise cooling. If you don’t have the luxury of a naturally cold environment, you can at least aim for fine grained control of cooling, along with isolating the most heat intensive equipment and reusing that heat if possible.

Lastly, Struckmeier advises the design of modular, prefab data centres which can give data centre managers the comfort of predictable space requirements and well specified computer performance and control over PUE, as well as flexibility when scaling out.

More practically, this means envisioning all the key elements - compute, storage and network - as part of a unified fabric, rather than a collection of distinct components which the data centre designer somehow has to patch together.

These can then be combined with cutting edge power management, and the sort of unified management pioneered by the hyperscale pioneers. Integrate all this into a shipping container, and we have something that can be rolled out super quickly for large scale installations, and which also lends itself to niche use cases.

How Huawei can help you green your data centre

These are the same principles that Huawei has employed across the thousands of data centres it has built or fitted out worldwide.

The fruition of this approach can be seen in projects such as Abu Dhabi City Municipality (ADM)’s new disaster recovery data centre.

To meet sustainable development requirements, ADM sought a green design concept for efficient power supply and cooling, in order to achieve maximum power usage effectiveness (PUE) and reduce operational expenditure (OPEX). ADM also required the ability to support no-fuss capacity expansion without impacting system reliability or availability.

In response to ADM’s needs, Huawei designed a modular data centre which is pre-fabricated in the factor and so could be brought quickly into use. Based on Huawei’s FusionModule 2000, the system includes Huawei’s proprietary uninterruptible power supply (UPS) which improved the power supply efficiency (PUE) of the disaster recovery centre by over 2 per cent compared to traditional solutions. In addition, a Huawei-developed in-row cooling system has reduced PUE by over 0.4 - a particular achievement in Abu Dhabi’s high temperature environment.

Both the power supply and cooling architecture work in 2N redundancy mode, thus conforming with Tier-IV redundancy - the Uptime Institute’s highest certification for system reliability – and a key requirement for the ADM disaster recovery centre, which is the “last line of protection for municipal data”.

Similar challenges were overcome when Huawei worked with Dawiyat - a subsidiary of the Saudi Electricity Company - on its rollout of fibre to the home networks in major cities in the Kingdom.

Huawei enabled Dawiyat to repurpose existing substation facilities using its FusionDC1000A Prefabricated Module Data Centre Solution. Effectively a data centre in a 20-foot shipping container, the FusionDC1000A can be installed and commissioned at a substation in a day to allow Dawiyat to begin deploying communication services.

The FusionDC1000A is extremely robust and can withstand the sometimes harsh conditions of the Kingdom, where summer temperatures in the interior often exceed 50 °C, while its high degree of integration massively reduces operation and management costs.

These are the technical solutions Huawei can deploy to deliver greener data and network centres. But it’s important to also grasp the values Huawei follows as part of this approach.

The first is to create added value. So, it’s not just a question of integrating compute, storage and network, and power infrastructure, which can reduce by half the time it takes for construction and to rollout an installation. It’s also about applying AI to managing data centre energy demand and using the air handling unit (AHU) and cooling to reduce PUE by up to 15 per cent. Reengineering power modules and using lithium batteries can reduce the overall carbon footprint by 40 per cent. AI powered management can reduce the need for skilled personnel and reduce operating and management costs by 35 per cent.

Huawei also asks how it can help transform existing resources to deliver productivity. As we’ve seen it usually makes sense to replace aging data centre equipment. However, not all infrastructure can simply be upgraded. So, for example, Huawei’s modular data centres can help power companies repurpose existing optical fibre and power grids, as at Dawiyat in Saudi Arabia, without breaking new ground.

Third, Huawei is acutely aware that, left unchecked, data centre energy consumption could triple over the next decade. Making data centre technology greener by lowering their carbon footprint is a no-brainer but will also deliver benefits in terms of TCO and lower energy bills. This requires a unified approach. Huawei can draw on a vast array of technological resources and expertise to deliver this requirement.

This includes working with customers and local partners to push technology forward, which is why Huawei’s fourth value is “win together”.

After all, this challenge is so large, no single company can solve it independently.

Please click here to learn more about how Huawei can help you green your data centre.

From March 24 to 26, Huawei will host the Industrial Digital Transformation Conference 2021 online, exploring the power of the resilient and innovative digital world from three perspectives: business, technology and ecosystems. Featuring a series of activities – from keynote speeches to forums and roundtables – the Industrial Digital Transformation Conference 2021 will be an open and inclusive platform that serves as the backdrop for in-depth, ambitious dialogue.

For more information or to sign up, please click here.

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