Rack Them Up

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PG&E helps its customers cut costs in their data centers. But the utility also practices what it preaches, through virtualization software and a review of its energy policies.

Rack Them Up

One of the key factors driving the corporate move to conserve power is the explosion in the use of servers and data storage, what Gartner describes as higher server densities.

Most American corporations are growing their server and data storage usage anywhere from 5% to 15% annually, according to PG&E's Bramfitt. "Then, with financial services and Web-based companies like eBay, Google and Yahoo," he says, "the growth rate can be 50% to 100% in their infrastructure needs."

PG&E itself is experiencing high infrastructure growth. "What we're seeing at PG&E," Argenal says, "is that our growth in storage alone last year was 150%, and in servers 125% to 130%."

PG&E has three major data centers: one at its Diablo Canyon power plant; one in Fairfield, Calif., which is the production facility; and a third in San Francisco. The latter handles development, testing, disaster recovery and quality assurance. In a preliminary move to create efficiencies, the company moved servers that were located outside its existing data centers into one of its three facilities. "As an example, if we had a server running production that was located on one of the office floors, we brought it to the Fairfield production center," Argenal says.

With all the company's servers now situated in its data centers, PG&E is utilizing virtualization, which the utility views as one of the most important tools in leveraging server use to achieve energy improvements.

Using VMware's virtualization software, PG&E is consolidating some 300 Unix servers in hopes of ultimately reducing that number to 30. The VMware tool lets a company pool multiple resources, including operating systems, onto a single server.

"Typically, most servers in data centers are operating at something like 10% to 20% of their capacity," Bramfitt explains. "Virtualization allows you to boost that capacity up into the 80% area by doing multiple work streams at the same time. That buys the customer room to grow back into their data center, and a whole lot of energy efficiency both in power and cooling."

"Virtualization is one of the best things we've been able to do in terms of getting maximum efficiency from our servers," Argenal adds. "VMware allows you to basically have a server that's dedicated to a single application and runs many more applications on it concurrently."

This article was originally published on 2007-02-20
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