Data Center War Stories – Maxim Samo from UBS

Back at the start of the summer I mentioned that Sentilla had asked us to run a series of chats with data center practitioners to talk about their day-to-day challenges.

This was very much a hands-off project from Sentilla – I sourced all the interviewees, conducted all the interviews and am publishing the results without any Sentilla input or oversight. This had advantages and disadvantages – obviously, from an independence perspective, this was perfect but from a delivery point of view it was challenging. It turns out that data center practitioners are remarkably camera shy, so it far longer than anticipated to produce this series, however, finally I’m ready with the first of the series, with more to come every week in the coming weeks.

This first episode in the series is with Maxim Samo, who is responsible for managing the European data center operations of global financial services firm UBS.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone and welcome to GreenMonk?s Data Centers War Stories series, sponsored by Sentilla. This week?s guest is Maxim Samo who works for the Swiss financial services company UBS. Maxim, do you want to start off by telling us what you do for UBS and what the kind of size of your datacenter fleet is?

Maxim Samo: Yeah, I run the Swiss and European operation for UBS, at the moment we have five datacenters in Switzerland and three outside of Switzerland spread around Europe, the total size or capacity probably being around six megawatts.

Tom Raftery: Okay and what kind of age is the fleet, is it like you know the last five years or 10, or is that — it?s obviously a variety that you didn?t build all eight in the one go.

Maxim Samo: Right, it?s anywhere between — they were built anywhere between 1980 and 2004, there is a couple of colo?s that are probably newer than that, but yeah.

Tom Raftery: So if they were built starting in 1980, I mean I assume that this is one of the reasons why you think more in terms of power as supposed to space because your — they weren?t optimized around power at that time I?m sure.

Maxim Samo: Oh not at all, exactly. They were built with a density of around 300 watts per square meter or even less right, I mean they were mainframe datacenters and we kind of ? well, we did some refurbishments in there and as a matter of fact one of those datacenters is undergoing a major renovation right now to increase the amount of power that we can put in there.

Tom Raftery: Power is obviously one of the more pressing issues you guys are running up against, but what are the other kind of issues you have in the datacenters in the day-to-day operations?

Maxim Samo: So the way our datacenters are built in Europe at least within UBS is that, we don?t have like big data halls, but we have a number of smaller rooms within the datacenter building and in order to be cost effective you know we don?t have every single network available in all the rooms, we don?t have every single storage device and storage network in terms of production storage or tester development storage available in all the rooms.

So some of our constraints or else or around that we have to — not only do we have to manage the capacity, but we have to figure out which rooms the servers come in and then try to get adequate forecasts of how much the business and the developers want to put into what datacenter rooms and try to juggle the capacity around that.

Tom Raftery: We are calling the show the Datacenter War Story. So, have you any interesting problems that you came across in the last number of years and resolved any interesting issues that you hit up against?

Maxim Samo: So, in terms of war stories I guess we are — one thing is we are going to have the interesting issue about switching the electrical network of the datacenter that is undergoing renovation and we are currently looking at the options of how we can do that.

One option would be that we would switch — well, that we would put both ups into utility bypass, runoff the utility, and then switch over the network, where of course you have the risk of a power blip coming through which takes down your datacenter. So, in order to mitigate that we are also talking about a full scale shutdown of the datacenter, which right now is being received very well by the people involved, so that?s going to be an interesting one.

So we had, actually very recently we had a very funny case where we — what we do is, we conduct black star tests, black star test is when you almost, you like pull the plug and see what happens, right. So you literally cut off the utility network, your ups will carry the power, the diesel generators will start and you make sure everything works smoothly.

The last time we did this test that was a week ago on the weekend when the diesel generator started it created so much smoke that a pedestrian out on the street actually called the fire department and we had the fire department come in and lot of people were panicking and asking what is going on, we have a fire in the datacenters, like no, we just tested our diesel generators, that was a very funny instance.

I can really remember a war story in terms of the datacenter going down luckily that has not happened for a very long time, we absolutely, we probably — well, we did have a partial failure at one point where pretty big power switch within the switch gear has failed and brought down one side of the power.

However, since most of our servers and IT equipment is dual power attachsed it did not have any impact on their production.

Tom Raftery: Great, that?s been fantastic. Max, thanks for coming on the show.

Maxim Samo: All right, thanks Tom.

Disclaimer – Maxim asked me to mention that any views he expressed in this video are his own, and not those of his employer, UBS AG.


Data center war stories sponsored blog series – help wanted!

Data center work

Sentilla are a client company of ours. They have asked me to start a discussion here around what are the day-to-day issues data center practitioners are coming up against.

This is a very hands-off project from their point of view.

The way I see it happening is that I’ll interview some DC practitioners either via Skype video, or over the phone, we’ll have a chat about DC stuff (war stories, day-to-day issues, that kind of thing), I’ll record the conversations and publish them here along with transcriptions. They’ll be short discussions – simply because people rarely listen to/watch rich media longer than 10 minutes.

There will be no ads for Sentilla during the discussions, and no mention of them by me – apart from an intro and outro simply saying the recording was sponsored by Sentilla. Interviewees are free to mention any solution providers and there are no restrictions whatsoever on what we talk about.

If you are a data center practitioner and you’d like to be part of this blog series, or simply want to know more, feel free to leave a comment here, or drop me an email to [email protected]

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Photo credit clayirving


Sentilla thinks of data centers, as data factories!

Data center

If you have been following this blog, you’ll know I have been profiling Data Center efficiency companies over the last few weeks. This week I take a look at Sentilla.

I talked to Sentilla’s CTO and co-founder, Joe Polastre, the other day and Joe told me that Sentilla came out of Berkeley where they had been looking at data analytics problems around large, potentially incomplete or inaccurate, streaming datasets. The challenge was how to turn that into a complete picture of what’s going on so people could make business decisions.

Sentilla takes an industrial manufacturing approach to Data Centers – in manufacturing you have power going in one side, and products and (often) waste heat coming out the other. In the same way in data centers you have power going in one side and coming out the other side you have the product (compute cycles) and waste heat. To optimise your data center you need to get the maximum data/compute (product) output with the minimum power in and the least waste heat generated. Sentilla thinks of data centers, as data factories!

Unlike most of the data center people I have talked to, Sentilla don’t talk so much about energy savings. Instead they emphasise maximising performance – getting the most out of your existing data centers, your existing storage, your existing servers, your existing power supply. By far the greatest saving from deploying Sentilla, Joe claimed, is not from the energy savings. That pales in comparison to the capital deferment savings gained from being able to delay the building of extra data center facilities by however many years, he said.

So how does Sentilla help?

Well Sentilla analyses the energy profile of every asset in the data center, whether metered or not, and makes recommendations to improve the planning and management of data center operations. I highlighted the “whether metered or not” bit because this is an important differentiator for Sentilla – they have developed and patented what they call “virtual meters”. These are algorithms which look at the work that a device is doing, and based on models which Sentilla have built up, and measurements they have done, as well as some benchmarks which are out there, Sentilla computes how much power is being used by that equipment.

The reason this is so important is because the most inefficient equipment in the data center is not the new stuff (which is likely to already be metered) but the legacy devices. These are the ones which need to be most carefully managed, and the ones where the greatest performance gains for the data center can be made. And because Sentilla can pull usage information from management databases like Tivoli, it means the Sentilla doesn’t need to poll every piece of equipment in the data center (with the increased network traffic and data that would generate).

Also, because Sentilla has its virtual meters, it is a software-only product and can therefore be rolled out very quickly.

The other nice feature Sentilla has is that it can identify the energy utilisation of virtualised servers. This is important because with the increasing ease of deployment of virtual servers, under-utilised VM’s and VM clutter are starting to become issues for data centers. VM clutter isn’t just an issue for energy reasons – there are also implications for software licensing, maintenance and SLA requirements.

I asked Joe about whether Sentilla is a SaaS product and he said that while they have a SaaS version of the product, so far most of Sentilla’s clients prefer to keep their data in-house and they haven’t gone for the SaaS option.

Finally I asked about pricing and Joe said that Sentilla is priced on a subscription basis and, apparently, it is priced such that for any modest sized data center, for every $1 you put into Sentilla, you get $2 back. Or put another way, Joe said, deploying Sentilla will generally mean that you reclaim around 18-20% of your power capacity.

Disclosure: Sentilla are a client (but this post is not part of their client engagement)

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Green bits and bytes for Feb 3rd 2011

Green bits & bytes


Some of the Green announcements which passed by my desk this week:

  1. Capgemini just announced that it can offer its utility customers deployment services, project management, technical and customer support related to Intel’s new Home Energy Dashboard. The Dashboard is a device, based on Intel architecture, that enables utilities to interact directly with consumers in the home.
  2. IDA Ireland – the country’s inward investment promotion agency reported recently that Intel and SAP are establishing a ?1.7m research and development centre in Belfast with the support of Invest NI. This is the first time that Intel and SAP have established a shared physical location with pooled resources.
  3. Both of data centre owner Telehouse’s London data centre’s have been awarded the Carbon Trust Standard. The Standard certifies that organisations have measured, managed and reduced their carbon emissions across their own operations, and are committed to reducing them year-on-year.
  4. Sentilla – a provider of software to track energy performance management for data centres announced version 3.3 of their Energy Manager application. The new version automatically records how much work is performed, how much energy is consumed, the cost of running each service, and the efficiency of each service. This enables enterprises to make informed, strategic decisions about where to run applications, how and when to virtualize, and how to get the most out of their equipment and power capacity.
  5. A new report by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney which looks at climate change actions and performance of 57 global companies and 1,000 of their suppliers across a broad cross-section of industries concludes that businesses are now seeing a return on investment from embedding sustainable practices into the procurement function. It goes on to assert that this indicates an emerging trend in supply chain engagement and collaboration.

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