Greening Cybera’s server room

By Luke Tymowski, Systems Administrator, Calgary

Catching up on my reading over breakfast one day, I came across Anchor's blog post about its data centre greening initiative. Here at Cybera, despite being so busy lately, we've also recently completed an infrastructure greening initiative, albeit inadvertently.

Cybera's server room used to house a number of servers, many of them rather old. When it came time to upgrade our infrastructure, we realized that updating those operating systems with security patches or other similar fixes wasn't a realistic solution. We would have had to reinstall the OS from scratch and rebuild the servers, which adds up to a lot of work.

Luckily, the recent completion of two pilot projects meant we had two multiple-core servers available to add to our hardware zoo. Since we would have to rebuild the old servers from scratch, we figured: why not abandon the old servers and rebuild our infrastructure using virtualization and the two new beefy servers? So we did just that.

Our rack at the University of Calgary data centre used to house seven servers. These were replaced with one of the new servers. A second server room on campus used to hold another six servers. Of those six, two were re-purposed and moved to our office server room to join the other new server. The remaining four old servers were taken out of service completely.

We now manage one server room, plus the university data centre rack. Replacing 13 servers with two obviously reduced our energy consumption by a considerable amount (most of the retired servers were very old and inefficient). Unfortunately, we don't have concrete numbers to show our energy savings, because we didn't think to measure our energy consumption before the Great Server Cleanup of 2011.

However, cooling requirements for the servers was something we could immediately measure and compare. Before the upgrade, we used to run the office server room air-conditioning at full power (+5 on the dial) to keep the temperature under control. We were able to turn the dial down to one during the summer, and zero with the onset of Autumn.

Like many university data centres, ours is short of available power. Before we can install a server, we need to notify the data centre manager with the details of our proposed server's power needs. When we needed two firewalls for our new network, we looked for the most power-frugal servers we could find at Dell. Part of our virtualization journey has involved finding out, the hard way, that some services do not work well when virtualized. For example, busy database servers and other write-heavy servers still need dedicated servers (they don't work well when virtualized).

Overall, the process of "greening" our server room went fairly smoothly. Looking ahead, the next step for us is to actively monitor our power consumption. Stay tuned…