EMC cuts power with new Centera

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The August launch of a more energy-efficient version of its Centera Generation 4 LP (low power) archiving product has allowed EMC to join the ranks of green IT suppliers. With more and more data being archived online, users are demanding energy-efficient storage.

Centera 4 LP's nodes use a smaller dual-core 1.66GHz Intel processor instead of a 2.8GHz Intel processor, and a single-chip chipset vs. a three-chip chipset, resulting in less power draw on the processing side. Each node now consumes 125 watts instead of 250 watts per node, reducing the overall cooling requirements by 50%. The size of the fan and its motor are smaller, meaning the power supply is also smaller, claims Steve Spataro, Centera product marketing manager at EMC.

Further, Centera 4 LP nodes support 750GB SATA drives, giving users more storage capacity in the same footprint. The firm claims the system's more efficient architecture, combined with the larger drives, reduces overall node energy consumption by 67% per terabyte. Although this claim hasn't been independently verified, users are generally glad EMC is focusing on the power issue.

"They've finally decided to come down from the mountain and join us in the global data center warming crisis," says Mark Holt, IT specialist at Media General Inc., Richmond, VA. "We've been pounding them over this for long enough."

Stephen Edge, an enterprise architect at DeKalb Medical Center in Atlanta, is running a data center that's approximately 10 years old and is now out of power due to the sheer number of devices and apps he's running. The hospital upgraded its UPS system several years ago, but reached the maximum power requirements in less than three years. A new UPS system would cost several million dollars.

"We're not exactly floating around here with boatloads of money to add extra power," says Edge. "This is a huge challenge for us."

DeKalb Medical Center uses two Centera systems, one for the hospital's electronic medical records and a second for its radiology application. It's planning to install a third Centera next year for archiving cardio x-rays, angiograms and other heart-related images. The 750GB drives in the new Centera should help, says DeKalb Medical Center's Edge. "The fact that we can get more storage for less power is the key reason we'll buy it."

EMC claims 3,500 customers currently use the Centera system, a drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of thousands of customers who have deployed its Clariion and Symmetrix products. So will there be "low-power" versions of those systems?

"It's not on the roadmap as 'low power' per se," said Dick Sullivan, Symmetrix marketing manager at EMC, at a recent industry event on data center power consumption in Cambridge, MA. "But we're infusing this message across the board into all product engineering." Speakers at the event from Advanced Micro Devices, Hewlett-Packard and EMC said they had little patience for customers who complain they're out of power when the equipment turns up on the dock.

"Systems can sit there for years drawing power when the original application they were running has been migrated somewhere else," says John Tuccillo, marketing director at power and cooling equipment supplier American Power Conversion (APC), West Kingston, RI.

Rick Villars, VP, storage systems at IDC in Framingham, MA, who also attended the event, disagrees. "We're blaming the victim here," he says. "Where was the systems engineer from EMC when this customer was deciding if they could support a new DMX in their data center?" Vendors should help users plan for power consumption, which might mean not selling more gear, adds Villars.

While power consumption is a pressing issue, you must put it into perspective. Media General's Holt says the bigger storage problem is that these systems are still too complex and expensive to design, configure, install and manage. Power consumption, he adds, is just another cost to manage. "It seems like hype a lot of the time, postapocalyptic, like we expect to see Mel Gibson wheeling through the desert stealing fuel for his Mad Max Fibre Array," says Holt.

This was first published in September 2007

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