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Zen and the Art of Data Center Greening (and Energy Efficiency)
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Visit to Modius

Posted By Zen Kishimoto, Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I’ve conducted several interviews with companies in the data center energy efficiency space. Sometimes, repeatedly bumping into someone from one of those companies at industry conferences and meetings prompted my interview. Sometimes, I have been introduced by someone who knows someone at such a company. My encounter with Craig Compiano of Modius was very different from the others.

As I have been reporting in my blog, I attended Data Center World in Nashville, TN, in early March. Craig gave a talk there regarding the importance of measuring and metering for data centers, from the Modius perspective.

At that time I was completely confused about this space (metering/measuring). Well, you put your own sensors or someone else’s at strategic locations (including both IT and facilities equipment) in a data center. Then, you collect and gather data, then you aggregate and analyze them. Finally, you display them in a dashboard. I never belittle the efforts to make a product out of any technology, but this seemed pretty straightforward—maybe too straightforward to consider as an independent space.

So after Craig’s talk, I went to him and asked this question. Maybe my tone of voice was not very friendly, but he gave me his answer. If I remember correctly, he told me that I needed to evaluate each company’s offering from many angles, including comprehensive device coverage, supportability, and scalability. Obviously, I was not convinced, and my face showed it. Craig said he could spare more time if I wanted. I thought I was going to do that if I had time. Then, at the Modius booth on the show floor, I bumped into Adam Waitkunas, whom I got to know by attending a few data center conferences and meetings. I told Adam my problem of not being able to differentiate those metering companies. He told me that he could arrange a meeting with Modius. So that was why I got to talk to Craig again on a hot San Francisco day.

When we sat down in his conference room, I was eager to find out the differentiation. He started drawing pictures on a whiteboard, as shown below.

Craig Compiano

It was deja vu. I remembered this scene from somewhere. Then it came to me. More than fifteen years ago, Jim Clark gave me the same kind of chalk talk about Mosaic Communications (later Netscape). Because of this deja vu, I knew that Craig is a technologist as well as a chief executive. And he certainly is. His view was quite interesting. The following is my version of his picture in a more abstract (less artistic) way.

Modius view of metering/measuring space. The box in light beige has been implemented by Modius, the one in light green is someone else’s, and the box in light red is being implemented.

His explanation follows.

What Modius did first was to build a middleware infrastructure to support several functions required at data centers. The middleware is enclosed by a dashed line in the picture. This middleware infrastructure is the cornerstone of the Modius technology; it allows scalability to support any number of data center locations around the globe. The database is also an important piece of the equation; it needs to collect, organize, and retain a huge amount of data for analysis, display and sharing with various applications.

A set of necessary functions (or applications) have been implemented on top of the middleware infrastructure. The five leftmost functions are those typically implemented at most data centers today:

  • Real-time Alarm Management: Data set by various sensors regarding health of equipment and power consumption
  • Asset management: Inventory of IT and facilities equipment
  • Service desk: Help desk function
  • Capacity analysis: Current and future power and cooling capacity
  • Efficiency analysis: Real time analysis of the efficiency of DC power and cooling assets.

The last box is automatic air control, which controls the airflow and temperature of CRAC units on the basis of the inlet air temperature at each server in the data center. I am familiar with this technology because I edited the case study for the California Franchise Tax Board data center. Federspiel is marketing this technology. See in here under the header of "Control of Computer Room Air Handlers Using Wireless Sensors - Franchise Tax Board"

Modius is currently working on this technology, and has a product plan to extend their functions even further, but Craig is not sharing more information on that at this time.

Back to my basic questions. What is the differentiation? With this picture on the board, it was straightforward.

  • Enough functions on top of the middleware structure. This is a necessary condition but is it sufficient? I am sure new applications will be added over time all fed by the same real-time source data. How many more functions are required to be enough? This needs more thinking and analysis.
  • The infrastructure, including the middleware. Can it scale as an enterprise wants to add more locations and more applications into a single converged system? Does it have an easy interface to add new devices and equipment as they become available in a low-cost manner?

What about the big four in network/system management? Are they coming into this space anytime soon? Craig does not think so. The complexity and disparity of infrastructure assets being addresssed by metering/measuring companies and the highly varied consumers of the metric data is not necessarily tightly linked with network/system management. But who knows? If and when this space matures, this space may be merged into network/system management to form a new space.

So far Craig’s explanation was very useful to analyze the market space. If I had not approached him after his talk, would he have taken the time to share his thoughts with me? The talk with him has solved some of my confusions.

Tags:  AFCOM  Craig Compiano  Datacenterworld  Metering and Measuring  Modius 

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