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Generator Delays May Slow Data Center Projects 257

miller60 writes "The data center building boom is causing backlogs for new generator orders, with some companies reporting delivery delays of up to a year for new 2,000kw units, which are the current standard for mission-critical facilities. Generator availability is 'the No. 1 thing that will drive your construction schedules,' according to Equinix, which is building centers in three major markets. 'This will be a big issue for the next wave of data center builds,' says another industry executive. Used generators and smaller units tend to be more available than the 2 megawatt units, but companies targeting the enterprise sector may be wary of relaying on used units or smaller generators than those powering competing facilities."
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Generator Delays May Slow Data Center Projects

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  • Generator Delays (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @01:18PM (#16580910) Homepage
    You would think that companies that make larger generators (I'm talking > 100kW) would understand that demand goes up during hurricane season, and things of that nature.

    We only encountered a one month delay on delivery of our 125kW natural gas fired generator. Our delay was mostly because of hurricane Katrina having struck the gulf coast. We had to pull some serious string but since we wouldn't be moving in until November of 2005, it didn't really impact us.
  • Re:2 MEGAwatts?!?! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zak3056 ( 69287 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @01:24PM (#16581032) Journal
    The part that I don't undestand is this: Why do they need just one generator? If you're having difficulties obtaining a 2Mw unit, wouldn't it make sense to get two smaller units?

    Keep reading the article--further down it says that large data centers (like MS and Google are building) need 20 or 30 2MW generators! My question: if you power requirements are that high, surely it must make sense to build your own powerplants? Multi-year construction time, I guess?

    I know there are several 60-75MW units under construction in the US now (a mix of coal and gas, IIRC.) If it makes sense for a utility to build them, surely it would make sense for a data center owner to do so if they were going to use all of that capacity.

  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @01:33PM (#16581188) Homepage Journal
    Step 1: Take a price from this map [michaelbluejay.com].
    Step 2: Multiple that price times 2,000.

    So for California, 2,000kWh would cost $240 per hour to run. That's $5,760/day, $40,320/week, and a whopping $2,096,640/year!

    Of course, for diesel your prices may be higher. As of right now, diesel is approximately $2.669 per gallon [doe.gov] in California. To compute the costs, you'd need to know how efficient the generator is. This page [uaf.edu] claims "approaching 40%", so we can use that for a guesstimate. At about 146,520,000 joules per gallon of diesel, we can compute a need of 122.85 gallons per hour [google.com]. At the going rate, it would cost ~$327.89/hour to run a 2MW generator.
  • by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @01:35PM (#16581214) Homepage
    I was having dinner with an IT guy from Skywest Airlines the other night and he told me in the last big power outage in St. George, Utah where they're based (and I live) their battery backups ran out quickly and there was a hardware problem between their generators and their IT department.

    The end result is that all of their servers and network equipment went out for hours, and they had to cancel a whole lot of flights costing the company well over $1,000,000.

    You can buy a lot of crappy gas generators at the Lowes across the street for $1M. I think I would have sent two guys there and two guys to the gas station to keep the essentials online.

    There is a lot to be said for redundancy. Redundancy is very important. You can't talk about redundancy enough. Seriously, it's better to be twice as redundant than only half as redundant. And three times as redundant is even better than twice!

  • by scuba_steve_1 ( 849912 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @02:01PM (#16581694)
    I studied this topic for work this year and learned that the current data center rule of thumb is that for every watt that you spend powering a server, you must spend another watt on air conditioning...and it gets worse.

    Now, with servers getting smaller (e.g., blades) and CPUs evolving to multi-core, heat and power usage density is increasing dramatically within the same floor space...and cooling it effectively ranges between difficult and nearly impossible...without ripping everything out and starting over...which few can afford to do. Effective cooling now requires knowledge of interior meteorology (to butcher a term). Data centers now end up with weather patterns...with cold zones, hot zones, wind, plague, pestilence...and it gets worse every day.

    According to a study conducted last year by AFCOM (http://www.afcom.com ), a leading association for data center professionals, data center managers reported a 10% or more increase in power requirements during the previous year, with most expecting that number to continue to rise at a similar rate for the foreseeable future. As a result, 41% of those surveyed stated that the will be forced to upgrade their power and cooling systems within the next 36 months.

    What to do? Well...first off, exploit the hardware that you have. Google VMware...and start using those spare cycles for more virtual platforms. Secondly, stop cramming everything into small spaces...learn to expand gracefully. Otherwise, that rule of thumb is going to fail...and we'll end up spending two-thirds of our power dollar on A/C...and still end up frying hardware. Lastly, how about demanding power usage metrics from vendors when specing out servers? Power supplies installed in many servers frequently run at 65% efficiency. The result is an enormous amount of excess power used that simply generates heat, which must then be removed. Unfortunately, the industry has not yet established benchmarks for performance-per-watt expended. Start demanding that info. You'll get blank stares and cryptic answers, but let them know that it matters, That electricity doesn't come out of the wall folks...it comes from burning coal, fossil fuels, hydro, and nuclear power. We either need to get over our fear of nuclear power and our distaste for dams...or start demanding better performance.

  • Re:2 MEGAwatts?!?! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @02:19PM (#16581998)
    Most places will let each cabinet get two 20-amp circuits, for roughly 5 kilowatts. That means you can only provide power forup to 400 cabinets. But don't forget, they also have to power all of their own equipement, and that you don't want to run a generator at 100% capacity. That means that you could be talking about as few as 200 cabinets from that sort of generator.

    That's still a good number of cabinets in a datacenter, but it's not the unbelievable size that seems to jump out at you when you think of 2 megawatts.

    As for two smaller units, if one fails, can the other handle the full load of the data center? If not, you're screwed.
  • Re:2 MEGAwatts?!?! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thatnerdguy ( 551590 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @03:07PM (#16582780) Journal
    At least one city here in Quebec did just that during the Ice Storm of 1998. They wheeled a locomotive into the center of the city and used it to power important buildings.
  • Small skyscraper (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot,kadin&xoxy,net> on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @03:07PM (#16582786) Homepage Journal
    I would bet that a datacenter probably uses as much electricity as a small skyscraper. Because of the high equipment densities, a 1-story datacenter filled with racks probably has HVAC requirements that are like a multi-story office building filled with cubes. IT doesn't have the same lighting requirements, but that's not nearly the draw that heating and cooling are.

    Actually, I bet that in many situations, if you just pulled the plug on a 'center, very bad things might happen to the equipment, aside from the obvious ones like data loss. Even without the machines actually producing any more heat (because they're off), without cooling air being forced through them, in very high density racks I wonder if the residual heat might not build up to rather high temperatures and become a problem; damaging hard drives or other temperature-sensitive parts.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.