January 2011 E-newsletter
District Cuts Energy Costs
West Des Moines Community Schools' ad hoc data center was 15 years old, so Scott Crothers had grown used to compensating for a lack of adequate cooling capacity and power monitoring tools. Everyone has a breaking point, though, and the network engineer hit his last summer when excessive temperatures suddenly knocked out half of his servers. Then, on a different day, an overloaded circuit took out another server and caused the Iowa school district to lose an external storage device.
“It was obvious that we had to do something,” Crothers recalls. “We hadn't experienced any permanent data loss because we had good backup policies in place, but we were definitely running the risk that something really bad might happen.”
Crothers and the school district's technology department upgraded its data center in June by modernizing the IT gear and installing a state-of-the-art cooling and power management system from Eaton Powerware, including rack-mounted power distribution units (PDUs), uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units, an extended battery module tower and an onsite gold maintenance plan.
The solution affords Crothers the kind of control and transparency he needs to run his data center as efficiently as possible and enables reliable 24x7 data center operations.
For example, software that comes with the Eaton gear monitors power performance and can pinpoint where energy is being used most efficiently (or, conversely, where it's being wasted). The IT team can instantly determine – rather than just guess – exactly how many servers a circuit can handle. The system rings an alarm if a battery is getting ready to fail. The temperature in the data center is managed and kept at optimum levels, even as energy costs are cut by up to 15 percent.
For Crothers, the most important benefit is that the system frees him to focus on his job as an IT administrator. “I just have peace of mind because I no longer have to worry constantly about whether my data center is going to stay up and running,” he says. “It just hums along now without nearly as much effort on our part, and I know my customers and staff have what they need to do their job when they need to do it.”
Crothers' decision to upgrade is hardly unique. Many K–12 IT administrators now face a Catch-22: They are asked to implement increasingly demanding IT hardware and software, but must do so within an electrical and mechanical infrastructure that is too outdated to support the new equipment.
This situation runs the risk of equipment damage and failure, and the power costs are becoming overwhelming, says David Cappuccio, managing vice president for data center strategies at Gartner.
The “green” revolution has spurred organizations to look at boosting the energy efficiency of power, cooling and air distribution systems within data centers, Cappuccio says. “People are now realizing that if you address that underlying equipment effectively, you can reduce energy consumption anywhere from 15 to 30 percent, without even touching the IT infrastructure,” he explains.
Percentage of data center operations costs consumed by power and cooling in 2010, the fastest growing cost for data center operations
That has certainly been the case for the Northern Lebanon School District in Fredericksburg, Pa. Like West Des Moines, this small school district had also experienced overheating and failure issues that were negatively affecting the IT team's ability to effectively support school operations and computing.
Keith Kemmerling, a technical assistant, says that the school chose to upgrade its data center a few years ago, implementing an APC InRow SC cooling system and a Symmetra power management system. The fix has dramatically improved the data center's efficiency and reliability and freed him up to serve customers.
“With this solution, there's a comfort level that I get because I can go in and immediately know what's going on with my data center,” Kemmerling says. “I have these management tools and reports that let me know immediately if there are power glitches or if anything is getting close to failing.”
For a K–12 school, especially a small one with budget constraints, this type of efficiency and reliability is critical to IT success, Kemmerling notes. “We have a small staff and a lot on our plate, and we can't go out and add people just to manage servers and switches and power in our data center.”