Schneider Electric Data Center Showcases Server Consolidation and Energy Efficiency

by Drew Robb

When Schneider Electric purchased APC, it set about building a new new data center outside of St. Louis, Mo. Although it was designed to consolidate both companies' server rooms, it also serves as a model of energy efficiency, illuminating Schneider Electric's EcoStruxure architecture for intelligent energy management.

APC (now owned by Schneider Electric) has set up a new data center outside of St. Louis, Mo. As well as consolidating two of the company's data centers, it is using a host of APC and Schneider Electric gear including its EcoStruxure architecture for intelligent energy management.

"EcoStruxure is an approach to creating intelligent energy management systems," said Kevin Brown, vice president of IT Business at Schneider. "We chose St. Louis in order to have a central location for the consolidation of the many North American data centers we previously operated."

The facility will act as a showcase of company technology in the areas of building, power, and data center infrastructure. Prospective customers will be able to view the equipment they are thinking of buying and see how well it operates in the real world. Research and development work is also part of the plan at what is known as the Schneider Electric Technology Center (SETC).

"Through efficient design, monitoring and lower cost per kilowatt hour, we have documented significant electricity cost savings over a 12 month period at the Schneider Electric Technology Center," said Jim Simonelli, CTO for Schneider Electric's IT Business.

With more than 100,000 square feet, the building includes demonstration rooms, test chambers, a training area, R&D test facilities and, of course, the data center. Schneider Electric plans to consolidate more facilities into the St. Louis building.

"Two data centers have already been consolidated into the SETC, and we plan to have at least four additional data centers added to this consolidation in the first quarter of 2011," said Brown.

IT equipment initially will take up 4,500 square feet. That provides enough room for more than 500 servers, of which 50 percent will be virtualized. The company has chosen a mixed-vendor approach. Dell PowerEdge racks and blades, HP Integrity 9000's (RISC and Itanium), various IBM BladeCenter blades including the HS21, IBM Power p520 and p595 servers and a range of miscellaneous Intel-based stand-alone servers. On the storage side, EMC and IBM disk arrays will work alongside a Quantum and IBM tape libraries, and Cisco Catalyst 6500 switches will handle networking. APC racks, row-based cooling and hot-aisle containment pods keep everything cool.

"Based on growth and capacity planning, six zones with varying power densities and cooling redundancies were laid out," said Brown.

The low end of the density scale is designed for about 3.5 kW per rack on average, with the high end being up to 8kW per rack. Another zone is available for future racks and cooling. Brown pointed out that the APC hot-aisle containment technology allows the data center to have large variations in power load. It would be possible, for example, to have a 20kW rack in some areas.

The new data center revolves around an integrated energy management solution that monitors all systems. Power usage effectiveness (PUE) reporting is included to provide a view of energy utilization. All physical infrastructure elements -- IT, electrical and mechanical rooms -- are monitored with energy costs in mind. A breakdown by subsystem is provided.

High-level dashboards allow data center managers to easily monitor the efficiency, availability, performance, safety and security of the entire facility.

For the data center itself, APC InfraStruxure Central monitors, reports, analyzes and trends power, cooling, security and environmental conditions on the floor. APC InfraStruxure Operations is the change and capacity planning system. It also provides simulation, energy efficiency reporting, analytics and trending, and energy cost allocation for the servers, storage and networking gear.

At the facility level, Schneider Electric TAC Vista monitors and automates the environmental control system for the entire facility as well as any power generating plant, access control and surveillance equipment. Schneider Electric TAC Continuum looks after the chilled water system that keeps the building and servers cool. This includes the cooling towers, chillers, pumps, and computer room and rack air handlers. Further, it manages card readers, hand scanners and Schneider Electric Pelco security cameras. Schneider Electric PowerLogic ION Enterprise handles the electrical infrastructure from the utility feed to Power Distribution Units (PDU) in the data center. It profiles energy consumption and trends and characterizes power quality events, in addition to letting administrators drill down from the entire electrical network to individual equipment that may be having issues.

"A data center is an interdependent system comprised of multiple subsystems, so it requires management that touches all areas and provides greater visibility, from rack to row to room to building," said Brown. "By reducing inefficiencies and increasing our ability to make energy waste visible, the data center at the Schneider Electric Technology Center demonstrates the integrated, consolidated data center that many companies are seeking to build today."

Dual Cooling

Schneider Electric also released EcoBreeze cooling system. It can switch automatically from indirect evaporative to air-to-air heat exchanger cooling so cooling takes place in the most efficient way possible. The air-to-air side takes hot air from the data center using fans that it then passes through the indirect evaporative cooler and returns to the data center. The indirect evaporative heat exchange takes over when ambient temperatures can't support air-to-air heat exchange cooling. This is done through indirect evaporative cooling, which removes heat from the IT air by evaporating water on the outside of the heat exchanger channels. The EcoBreeze also prevents outside air from coming in contact with the data center air, regardless of which cooling mode is used. The unit is located outside the perimeter of the data center. It is sold in 50kw modules that can be grouped up to eight modules (400kw). The EcoBreeze will be available for purchase in 2011.

"The EcoBreeze not only provides multiple types of air economization, but its modular design [also] allows the unit to adapt to the future cooling needs of the data center," said Pat Johnson, vice president, Rack and Cooling Solutions, APC.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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This article was originally published on Monday Dec 6th 2010
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