Power-smart disk systems

"If you had some set of data that requires very high performance but not a lot of data, solid-state drives may be very economical in power consumption," said Eric Schott, director of product management at Dell. "It's also about floor space consumed and heat output, because for every dollar you're spending to power the equipment, you're spending a dollar to cool the equipment."

But the environmental benefits aren't the only things on vendors' minds when pushing energy-efficient products. Economic benefits are deemed equally as important.

"The messaging is around 'Go green to save carbon footprint,'" said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group and author of The Green and Virtual Data Center. "Most IT organizations don't have a carbon footprint issue. What they have are issues to sustain business growth, economic enhancement and productivity."

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Seven ways to cut disk system power

As one of the few mechanical devices in the data center, disk arrays draw substantial power to keep disks spinning and make cooling systems work harder to dissipate the heat they throw off. Here are seven ways to cut a disk system's power requirements:

  1. Thin provisioning. Because thin provisioning ensures that applications only consume the capacity they truly need, you don't end up with a lot of spinning, nearly empty disks.
  2. Spin down. In arrays used for secondary applications or those that use disk intermittently, drives can be slowed down or stopped when not in use.
  3. Solid-state drives. Solid-state drives (SSDs) use a fraction of the power required by magnetic-media disks and produce far less heat, but the power savings may be offset by the cost of SSDs.
  4. Big disks. By using higher capacity disks (especially 1 TB, 1.5 TB or 2 TB drives) you can store more data using fewer disks.
  5. Small form factor disks. For apps that require more performance than what SATA delivers, 2.5-inch SAS drives use up to 50% less power than 3.5-inch high-performance drives.
  6. Data deduplication. Store less and you'll need fewer disks and thus save on power. Dedupe is one of the most effective ways to cut capacity.
  7. Virtualization. Like thin provisioning, storage virtualization helps you make better use of the storage you already have installed. So while you may not cut your power bill, you can keep it from rising.

On the management side, the notion of intelligent management -- like that of Adaptec -- is something Schulz said can be expected to continue.

"We've seen many vendors adding intelligent management as a second feature, just like a RAID level," Schulz said. "You're seeing vendors bring that to the table, but in a granular approach: Use it when needed."

Adaptec's software allows drives to be operated in three power states, including normal operation with full power and full RPMs; standby, with low power that spins at a lower RPM during idle times; and power-off.

Dell's Schott said intelligent management can bring forth several benefits that otherwise aren't there. "It's very important for a storage array to be energy efficient," he said. "But it's also helpful if the applications could also clue us in more. It's one thing if the storage arrays are doing it in the background, it's another if the application is telling you."

While some vendors aren't sure to what extent the demand for energy efficiency will impact their storage products, most are sure that products aimed at conserving power will continue to gain momentum.

"Some of this greenness is much more of a philosophy over the work that we do, rather than just a product feature or release feature," Schott said. "And you can always do better. Even when you reduce and improve a few things, you're not done."

BIO: Matt Perkins is an assistant editor for TechTarget's Enterprise Applications Media Group.

This was first published in April 2009

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