What’s lean and green and coming to Europe? Rackable’s CloudRack C2

Written By: Peter Williams
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

A fact of life is
that the need for server and storage capacity just keeps growing, recession or
not. If yours is a data
centre (or cloud) in which raw compute power resides, you may shudder at your
energy bills – or perhaps just fear that you may hit the power supply limits
for your facility.

Any system
solution that counters this in a sizable way should be welcomed. Hardware
vendors, knowing this, have worked hard on improving energy efficiency – and
labelling it ‘green’.

Enter CloudRack C2,
developed and manufactured by Rackable Systems in the US (more of
whom in a moment). This 46U high cabinet can carry a server density up to 1,280
x86 cores (AMD Opterons now and ready for energy efficient Intel Xeon Nehalems
when available) – pretty lean. The company claims the C2 achieves 99% energy
efficiency – so green (for which read operating cost savings).

The C2 is “thermally
optimised” which means the equipment will run in a data centre where
temperatures are much higher – up to 40˚C (104˚F) – greatly reducing cooling
costs (But don’t try this temperature if mixing it with other equipment that
can’t cope; ‘hot-swappable’ may take on a new meaning!)

“By this means the
computer room air conditioning [CRAC] units can run using significantly less
power,” George Skaff, Rackable’s VP of Global Marketing, told me. “The
equipment’s fans use much less energy to give a very substantial net saving.”

In fact the C2’s layout permits
server-level power supplies and cooling fans to be eliminated (also improving
reliability). Instead the cabinet itself carries arrays of redundant,
hot-swappable fans with auto-adjusting fan speeds. What matters is the saving,
which the company estimates at 80% of fan power versus conventional AC fan

It is also the
first of Rackable’s systems to use its Power XE cabinet-level power
distribution technology aimed at eliminating the “stranded power” that is paid
for but ultimately wasted – through ‘near-perfect’ phase balancing. Power
delivery efficiency is improved by converting incoming AC power to 99% efficient
12V DC power using hot-pluggable N+1redundant rectifiers.

So what is the net
operating cost saving? I would guess it’s pretty substantial but highly
dependent on what you already have and what you are looking for in your data
centre, computer facility or cloud.

Meanwhile Rackable
Systems may not yet be a familiar name to many especially this side of the
pond, but you have almost certainly interacted with systems that deploy its
server and storage hardware – such as Amazon, Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook and so
on. Up to now the company has done most of its trade within the US where all its
development and manufacturing takes place, but it is about to set up its European
HQ in the UK and hopes in time to have a European manufacturing centre too. The
company is a founding member of the Green Grid.

What is unusual is
that the company configures, builds to order and ships (with about a four week
lead time) its ‘Eco-Logical’ server and storage systems. If desired, the user
can specify every component from the motherboard, chips and disk drives sourced
from a selection of leading vendors. Assembly is into one of several cabinet
sizes and types (including the MobiRack which has wheels to push it around),
and the solution arrives as a complete, ready-to-use unit.

Clearly, if the
user completely specifies his requirement, the resulting system may not be so
green. But Skaff told me, “If a person does not specify then we configure to low
power and voltage.” He added that that would mean, for instance, memory needing
only 6V power.

With this focus on
energy efficiency, it may be overlooked that Rackable’s server and storage
solutions are equally developed for high performance computing (HPC)
environments. So do not be fooled into thinking the company has sacrificed
performance in order to be more green. It is simply demonstrating how to squeeze out greater energy savings than other hardware vendors have so far managed.