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Analysis

What's lean and green and coming to Europe? Rackable's CloudRack C2
Peter Williams By: Peter Williams, Practice Leader - IT Infrastructure Mgmt., Bloor Research
Published: 31st March 2009
Copyright Bloor Research © 2009
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A fact of life is that the need for server and storage capacity just keeps growing, recession or not. If yours is a data centre (or cloud) in which raw compute power resides, you may shudder at your energy bills - or perhaps just fear that you may hit the power supply limits for your facility.

Any system solution that counters this in a sizable way should be welcomed. Hardware vendors, knowing this, have worked hard on improving energy efficiency - and labelling it ‘green'.

Enter CloudRack C2, developed and manufactured by Rackable Systems in the US (more of whom in a moment). This 46U high cabinet can carry a server density up to 1,280 x86 cores (AMD Opterons now and ready for energy efficient Intel Xeon Nehalems when available) - pretty lean. The company claims the C2 achieves 99% energy efficiency - so green (for which read operating cost savings).

The C2 is "thermally optimised" which means the equipment will run in a data centre where temperatures are much higher - up to 40˚C (104˚F) - greatly reducing cooling costs (But don't try this temperature if mixing it with other equipment that can't cope; ‘hot-swappable' may take on a new meaning!)

"By this means the computer room air conditioning [CRAC] units can run using significantly less power," George Skaff, Rackable's VP of Global Marketing, told me. "The equipment's fans use much less energy to give a very substantial net saving."

In fact the C2's layout permits server-level power supplies and cooling fans to be eliminated (also improving reliability). Instead the cabinet itself carries arrays of redundant, hot-swappable fans with auto-adjusting fan speeds. What matters is the saving, which the company estimates at 80% of fan power versus conventional AC fan units.

It is also the first of Rackable's systems to use its Power XE cabinet-level power distribution technology aimed at eliminating the "stranded power" that is paid for but ultimately wasted - through ‘near-perfect' phase balancing. Power delivery efficiency is improved by converting incoming AC power to 99% efficient 12V DC power using hot-pluggable N+1redundant rectifiers.

So what is the net operating cost saving? I would guess it's pretty substantial but highly dependent on what you already have and what you are looking for in your data centre, computer facility or cloud.

Meanwhile Rackable Systems may not yet be a familiar name to many especially this side of the pond, but you have almost certainly interacted with systems that deploy its server and storage hardware - such as Amazon, Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook and so on. Up to now the company has done most of its trade within the US where all its development and manufacturing takes place, but it is about to set up its European HQ in the UK and hopes in time to have a European manufacturing centre too. The company is a founding member of the Green Grid.

What is unusual is that the company configures, builds to order and ships (with about a four week lead time) its ‘Eco-Logical' server and storage systems. If desired, the user can specify every component from the motherboard, chips and disk drives sourced from a selection of leading vendors. Assembly is into one of several cabinet sizes and types (including the MobiRack which has wheels to push it around), and the solution arrives as a complete, ready-to-use unit.

Clearly, if the user completely specifies his requirement, the resulting system may not be so green. But Skaff told me, "If a person does not specify then we configure to low power and voltage." He added that that would mean, for instance, memory needing only 6V power.

With this focus on energy efficiency, it may be overlooked that Rackable's server and storage solutions are equally developed for high performance computing (HPC) environments. So do not be fooled into thinking the company has sacrificed performance in order to be more green. It is simply demonstrating how to squeeze out greater energy savings than other hardware vendors have so far managed.

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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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