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California State University virtualizes to save power

  • April 20, 2009

By Charles Babcock

I dialed in recently to an online technology discussion sponsored by, a community of technology professionals. Speaking was Rich Avila, director of server and network operations at California State, who said saving power wasn't a fuzzy, feel good goal for him. It was a necessity.

Avila is the director of server and network operations at California State University, East Bay, and he was responsible for 250 servers at the Hayward, Calif., institution. The school's data center had ramped up quickly and by late 2007, his utility was telling him he was drawing 67 kilowatt hours of power while the maximum available to him was going to be capped at 75 kilowatt hours. Pacific Gas & Electric said in no uncertain terms there'd be no additional power available when he reached that limit, a date that appeared about six months off, Avila said.

Avila looked at his infrastructure and found his 250 servers were mostly one application units, being utilized at six percent of capacity.

His direct access storage and SAN storage was a similar story, being utilized at 10-15% of capacity.

Avila developed a plan to replace 50 servers with three Sun Fire 4600 servers, an Opteron-based server that can be loaded up with random access memory. In other words, it was an ideal machine to serve as a host to multiple VMware virtual machine guests. By the end of 2008, he had shut down 25 servers. Seventeen NAS devices were turned off. And despite a 26% reduction in electricity use, he had installed 21 new applications. By the March 17 of this year, he had installed four Sun servers to consolidate 60 university servers.

He also installed a 3Par S400 storage unit with 923 drives and 43 terabytes of virtualized storage. His combined server and storage virtualization moves lead to the data center's electricity consumption dropping from 67 kilowatt hours to 51 kilowatt hours, saving the school $2,000 a month in power costs.

A significant side benefit was ridding the data center of 15 pallets of servers and miscellaneous gear, including 27 cathode ray tubes and 150 cables.

That gave him room to fit in some badly needed earthquake reinforcement structures. His data center, slated to be moved within the next two years, sits 120 feet from the Hayward fault, one of the most active in the Bay area. Because of that, the ten story building in which he resides, which was not built to be earthquake-proof, is destined to become a four story building soon after he moves out. But for now, refitting is the best he can do and he's glad to have the space to do it.

To crown the capping of his power consumption, Avila received a $12,000 check from PG&E or $200 per consolidated server, which the university qualified for under PG&E's power savings incentives.

So, as Earth Day dawns, the California State University, East Bay, can say it's achieved a greener data center. Avila would say he's started down a new path to managing the data center as a more flexible resource, and if power savings flow from that move, that's all the better.

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