Powering the high-density data center in the age of virtual reality

Powering the high-density data center in the age of virtual reality

VR requires substantially more storage space than HD video.

Virtual reality (VR) is officially here – and it's not all fun and games for data center managers.

As consumers and businesses acclimate themselves to VR, data centers will need to work harder than ever to support unprecedented IT workloads. Virtual reality content may require up to 20 times more storage space than high-definition video, according to Data Center Frontier. That's to say nothing of the 6.6 gigabyte-per-second bandwidth required of solid state drives.

To be clear: VR is not projected to go the way of Google Glass. It's expected to continue its steady march to the mainstream, achieving $40 billion in net worth by 2020, according to Orbis Research.

What's more, VR and AR (augmented reality) are not strictly the domain of gamers who would seek to spirit themselves away. Enterprises will use VR and AR for simulated training exercises, virtual conference environments, product demonstrations and so much more. This, paired with the mind-boggling requirements of Big Data processing and machine learning, portend the accelerated growth rate of high-density data centers.

Every facet of data center management will be affected: from cooling requirements to available physical space – but, especially, power management. 

A never-ending exercise in load balancing

Data centers are some of the most voracious consumers of electricity, accounting for more than 90 billion kilowatt hours every year in the U.S. alone. By 2020, that figure will be nearer to 150 billion kilowatt hours. Even with Moore's Law, more data and more processing power means more IT equipment – and that means more power flowing through the data center. 

The first issue data center managers run into is power distribution. High-density racks require precision load balancing to avoid potential power shorts while simultaneously minimizing the amount of unutilized, or stranded, electricity. A power short resulting from an overburdened power distribution unit (PDU) could take an entire rack offline, which would result in IT downtime for your business or for its clients. Conversely, over-provisioning and underutilizing electricity to "play it safe" will increase the amount of stranded power.

VR requires substantially more storage space than HD video.VR requires substantially more storage space than HD video.

On paper, this won't negatively affect your power usage efficiency (PUE) ratio since that electricity is technically going toward IT workloads as opposed to overhead, but it will needlessly hike up your electrical bill. Case in point: zombie servers. One-third of all servers are sitting comatose, just waiting in the wings and consuming electricity without adding any immediate value to your organization. 

To achieve a balance of power, high-density data centers will need to closely monitor power consumption levels, and provision equipment accordingly.

For example, outlet-level power monitoring via intelligent PDUs will provide utilization data that can help managers track peak and off-peak times. With remote switching (a feature of intelligent PDUs that lets staff remotely disable individual outlets), unutilized equipment can be powered down during off-peak hours. These capabilities enable precise provisioning of equipment based on available power and current utilization demands. 

Space considerations

Electricity isn't the only commodity in the data center that's affected by the shift to high-density racks. Space, or footprint, is an invaluable resource, and it needs to be conserved in the high-density data center for scaling purposes. Intelligent PDUs help do this in a few key ways:

  1. They can be installed vertically in the rack to save space and reduce the cord length for each switch or server plugged into it. 
  2. Intelligent PDUs can be connected in a fault-tolerant, bi-directional daisy-chain that utilizes only one switch port. 
  3. Real-time environmental sensors for temperature, humidity, et cetera can be connected to the local network directly through intelligent PDUs. 

It might not sound like much. When applied at scale across an entire facility or even an entire network of high-density facilities, though, the cost and space savings paired with the efficiency and performance enabled through intelligent PDUs will make a significant difference in the age of VR.