Sun’s Green Efforts Teach a Lesson

Sun Microsystems took the lessons from its Santa Clara, Calif. datacenter revamp from last year one step further into a huge consolidation project in Broomfield, Colo. While the moves represent bottom line efficiency gains for Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA), the experience also now serves as a model for its customers on how to maximize datacenter efficiency.

After its acquisition of StorageTek in 2005, Sun found itself with two datacenters in Colorado. They were also rather old and used outdated design ideas, so Sun took the fixer-up’er house approach: just gut the whole thing and start over.

“Depending on age of the building, a lot of times you need to gut it,” Dean Nelson, senior director of global lab & datacenter design services (GDS) at Sun told “The traditional way of datacenter design won’t accommodate what’s coming. Densities are king and they have to deal with those spot loads.”

Much of what Sun did in Colorado was built on the huge overhaul of its Santa Clara facility, which was compressed from 200,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet while improving performance and lowering power costs. Sun took that and applied the same lessons to Broomfield.

The result is Sun going from 496,000 of square footage down to just 126,000. But it’s also reduced power consumption by one million kilowatt hours per month while incorporating seven megawatts of power capacity that can scale up to 40 percent higher, and incorporated the latest green technologies throughout the facility. These lessons are now available as a guide to customers.

The first thing that went was the raised floor. Sun dumped all but 700 square feet of it. The reason? The servers are so dense these days they are extremely heavy and the raised floor needs significant reinforcement to hold the weight.

Also, the idea of a raised floor just doesn’t work any more, said Nelson. The concept is cold air runs under the floor and up through holes at the base of the computer, which then sucks in the cold air at its base.

That worked fine when servers averaged around 2 kilowatts of power draw. Now they average between five and six kilowatts, with some going into double digits. That’s just too much heat to cool with air drifting up through holes in the floor. What’s needed is cooling systems placed very close to the hardware.

Next page: Many cool ideas

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Many cool ideas

Typical datacenter design is to put large cooling systems at the corners of the room and use fans to blow the air into the space below a raised floor. Instead, Sun used cooling towers from American Power Conversion, which stand at the end of the row and look like another rack in the system, and Liebert, which are secured over the computers and blow cold air down as needed.

This way, you don’t do one size fits all for cooling. These systems ramp up and down their cooling based on the source of heat and the load it senses. By doing this with the Santa Clara datacenter, Sun was able to cut its electric bill in half, said Nelson.

Sun focused on modular “pods,” which include racks that have power, cooling and connectivity, making it a room inside of a room. Most datacenters tend to be rolled out in one fell swoop, which often results in companies deploying a datacenter that doesn’t match spec, or can’t get enough power. In some cases, they overbuild. Do it incrementally instead, said Nelson.

Secondly, facilities and IT need to be combined. One person needs to straddle the line between the building housing the datacenter and the computers inside. Most firms split the responsibilities between two different units.

“If you don’t have someone in my job you need one,” said Nelson. “You need to translate between real estate and IT groups because they have conflicting interests. Real estate is behind cost savings. They don’t want to build if they don’t have to. IT on the other hand wants to build things.”

Through its datacenter consolidation efforts around the world, Sun reduced its global footprint by 60 percent. It reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 23 percent, surpassing its goal five years early.

Sun has set a goal of a 20 percent further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2015, and the Broomfield datacenter alone reduced its U.S. output by six percent.

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