4 power challenges created by server virtualization

Server virtualization offers many benefits, including the ability to cut power consumption by requiring fewer physical machines. However, virtualizing does introduce new power challenges, as data center expert Mathew Snover describes in this guest post.


Virtualization is used in a lot of computing environments today, thanks to its benefits ranging from reduced hardware costs to improved availability. Some estimates note that up to 80% of server loads relying on x86 hardware will be run on virtual machines by 2016. This is great news for administrators, but will drastically change power consumption in data centers. While this is an affordable solution, it does present some infrastructure issues, especially related to power consumption:

1. Every server requires more power

As a general rule, virtualization will always increase the total amount of time a server will be running at peak performance. A virtualized machine will run at 70% to 80% capacity, whereas an unvirtualized machine runs at 10% to 15%. This means every data center needs to adjust its power supply to individual servers.  Along with power management issues, this increased workload will affect specific equipment management and maintenance strategies as well.

2. Every enclosure draws more power

Overall, virtualization will decrease power requirements of data centers. At the same time, it will increase the power consumption rate per server and per enclosure. Most data centers currently need an average of 75 watts of power per 1.75 inches of rack space. Blade servers can increase this number to as much as 1000 watts per 1.75 inches. This means data centers will need to have the ability to provide up to 40kW per enclosure.

3. Managing rack densities is more of a priority

An increase in rack density is an important power issue to keep an eye on as well. Most data centers feature several, stand-alone UPSs. This will often provide power to the entire data center. As rack densities increase, existing UPSs will become a power supply chokepoint.

4. Infrastructure is not as flexible as virtualization

A potentially problematic issue which could limit virtualization is current available infrastructure.  Virtualization allows applications to quickly be moved from one server to another at a moment’s notice. This instantly shifts the power demands within existing infrastructure. Unfortunately, the existing physical infrastructure cannot be utilized beyond limits created by the National Electrical Code. This will force IT professionals to complete extensive planning and forecasting in order for virtualization to be as flexible as possible.

What steps can be taken to address these issues?

Integrating quality power-management software can be a simple way to overcome many of the complexities related to power management, especially providing continuous power during an outage. It also allows IT professionals to constantly monitor virtual servers, physical servers, racks and UPSs. This provides essential insight into how power is used throughout the data center and allows for more accurate forecasting.

One of the primary appeals of virtualization is flexibility. In order to utilize virtualization to its fullest potential, current infrastructure must be managed correctly. Improper power management has never carried the heightened risks and consequences that large scale virtualization creates. Fortunately, quality data centers utilizing cutting-edge power management strategies. They also feature specialized, experienced IT professionals who provide the expertise necessary to successfully manage a highly virtualized environment.

About the author: Mathew Snover analyzes different cities in the United States to determine the best locations for data centers and colocation. He strongly urges companies to seek out geographically “safe” cities when selecting a data center. The Data Center that provides world class service is further explained at http://www.datafoundry.com

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