EMC’s Data Center Robot aims to transform energy management

by Srikanth RP, InformationWeek, July 31, 2013

EMC India COE has developed a Data Center Robot, which monitors various environmental parameters of the data center. In an exclsuive interview, Shailendra Ravi, Senior Director, Emerging Markets, EMC India, explains why EMC’s Data Center Robot has the potential to transform energy management in data centers

Cooling can account for more than 60–70 percent of data center power spend. Unfortunately, approximately 85 percent of the world’s enterprises have been buying more capacity than they need, over-provisioning their storage, and overcooling their equipment — all the while adding up cost. To address this challenge, three engineers from EMC India COE have developed a Data Center Robot. 

The Data Center Robot monitors various environmental parameters of the data center such as cooling, navigation, sensors and temperature. Srikanth RP spoke to Shailendra Ravi, Senior Director, Emerging Markets, EMC India, who explains the idea for developing the solution and its relevance to the Indian market. Edited excerpts: 

What was the motivation for the team to come together to develop this product? Can you take us through the steps of the origin for the idea for developing this product?

At EMC, there has always been a focus on being recognized as an innovative technology company, and this is embodied through a host of initiatives by the organization. One such initiative is the EMC Annual Innovation Conference, which not only fosters but also recognizes innovation within the employee community. This annual one-day celebration showcases the employees’ talents and highlights innovative ideas that helps shape EMC’s future. Arun AT, Vivek Jothiprakasam and Ravi Verma — three engineers from EMC India Centre of Excellence made a submission of Data Center Robot at the EMC Innovation Conference held in 2010 and this is where the idea originated from.

Around 85 percent of data centers worldwide have a prevalent problem of mismanaged provisioning of infrastructure, which increases energy consumption and costs many-fold. Each of these large DCs are also required to invest in a hundred or more sensors, to monitor and control temperature, taking the costs up to millions of dollars. The team identified that a mechanism that closely monitored power usage in a DC is a low hanging and effective opportunity, which led to the development of the EMC DC Robot. This innovation is the first-of-its-kind, and is an efficient, cost-effective and power saving method to monitor environmental parameters and cooling in a data center. 

Could you give a current overview of the data center market in India, and tell us the typical energy consumption and cost of a data center? How has this changed over the years? 

Over the years, the Indian market has seen an explosive growth in data and storage infrastructure needs, continuous uptrend in the penetration of Internet/ mobile devices, increasing use of virtualization/cloud technologies by enterprises resulting in renewed focus on cost management, etc. This growth, driven both by consumers and organizations, has resulted in increasing the demand for data center services in India. According to ‘Datacenter Landscape in India’ a 2012 report released by NASSCOM, current technological trends like DC consolidation, green computing, and virtualization are impacting the landscape while emerging trends like DC automation, DC-in-a-box, network convergence and Ethernet usage are expected to be the game changers for the industry. The report also says the Indian infrastructure market (comprising servers, storage and networking equipment; included in domestic hardware sales) reached USD 2.2 billion in 2012, growing by about 10 percent over 2011. This market is expected to grow at CAGR of 8.5 percent to reach USD 3 billion by 2016. 

Energy-related costs account for approximately 12 percent of overall data center expenditure, and are the fastest-rising cost in the data center, according to Gartner. Data center power, cooling and energy supply, and cost problems are likely to worsen during the next few years as organizations grow their technology infrastructure as they emerge from a recessionary period. Increased awareness has led to new data centers being designed to be efficient in terms of power utilization, space allocation and capital expenditure. 

What is unique about the data center robot and its relevance to an Indian enterprise?

In the Indian context, monitoring and controlling critical Indian environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, vibration, etc., has been a concern with enterprise data centers. The EMC DC Robot combats these conditions by indicating variations in temperature, recommending ideal temperatures for the DC to operate (which can also be set remotely), identifying cooling leakages in aisles, thus extending the longevity of the data center. Using heat maps generated by proprietary algorithms from the data collected by the Robot, enterprise data centers have the opportunity to improve their cooling efficiency and energy consumption, reducing energy consumption by around 10-20 percent as demonstrated by multiple tests at EMC data centers. 

Some organizations use permanent thermal sensors to collect data in the data center? How efficient is the DC robot with respect to cost, speed and reliability when compared to this approach of permanent thermal sensors to collect thermal profile data? 

DC Robot may give similar results or recommendations as a permanent thermal sensor does, however given that DC Robot is mobile and uses positional sensors, it eliminates the need to have multiple sensors installed on the DC and is a cost-effective alternative to multimillion dollar solutions such as a permanent thermal sensor. 

Can you share details on the testing phase of DC Robot and the results of the test phase at EMC India COE?

DC Robot is field tested at the EMC India COE Lab and at EMC global data centers during new projects. During one of the test runs at the Bangalore data center, using heat maps generated by the proprietary algorithms from the data collected by the Robot, EMC could improve the cooling efficiency at the local DC. The tests done also helped in identifying the cooling leakages in the aisles, which were later fixed. Based on the analysis of the tests, we decided to run the cold aisles at 23.C, a 2.C higher from earlier 21.C. This 2.C cooling efficiency translated to approximately 10-20 percent savings on the power consumption of the data center.  

What kind of opportunities do you see for the DC robot in the Indian market? 

According to IDC, storage is estimated to account for 37 percent of the total energy consumed in today’s data centers. And cooling can account for more than 60–70 percent of data center power spend. Unfortunately, approximately 85 percent of the world’s enterprises have been buying more capacity than they need, over-provisioning their storage, and overcooling their equipment — all the while adding up cost. The simple reason for this is not just the physical silos within companies, but a siloed way of thinking that leads to mismanaged provisioning. In view of this, for such environments and infrastructure needs, with its efficient temperature monitoring and control, EMC DC Robot can be a useful model that will lower operations and energy costs in data centers. 

About Author

Srikanth RP

Executive Editor

An award-winning journalist with more than 14 years of experience, Srikanth RP is Executive Editor with InformationWeek India. Srikanth is passionate about writing on topics which clearly show the business impact of technology.

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