Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Friday, September 22, 2017
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Datacenter Virtualization at Citigroup: DCIM Graphical Overlay 

Datacenters have become so large, complex, costly and strategically important that throughout the enterprise there is a broad ecosystem of datacenter stakeholders – so broad that their priorities can often be in direct contradiction. For datacenter planners and managers, these contradictions can cause much heartache.

Take the issue of cooling. The business and operations side hates the cost. The IT side embraces it for supporting of optimal hardware performance and safety. It’s one of the most common areas for datacenter conflict.

At Citigroup, Christian Pastrana, vice president of datacenter planning, found himself at the convergence point of stakeholder contradictions while managing Citi’s space-tapped, 40,000 square foot, 1986-vintage legacy data center in New York. Charged with improving datacenter efficiencies, he and his team naturally targeted energy consumption of the datacenter’s electricity-hungry HVAC system, which pleased operations-side stakeholders. But the IT group said Pastrana’s group had to first ensure 100 percent IT thermal conformance and thermal resilience for their assets.

Pastrana, who said his team, a technology engineering group, serves in part as a liaison and a bridge between Citi’s real estate management organization and IT, and “it’s not easy to appeal to all the stakeholders,” he said.

Pastrana needed a means of balancing these conflicting needs, a method for analyzing datacenter performance and conditions from several perspectives at once. Ideally, he wanted predictive analysis capabilities that could foretell the impact of various changes in IT equipment and “white space” (the area in the datacenter allocated for IT equipment) conditions.

For this he turned to Future Facilities, a UK-based company that’s turning heads in the datacenter management world with software that utilizes CFD and other modeling techniques while integrating data from DCIM tools to generate detailed, interactive virtualizations of an entire datacenter. Its 6SigmaDCX product line also has predictive capabilities that show datacenter managers the impact of new equipment installations or, in Citigroup’s case, a typical one, of energy conservation measures.

Specifically, Pastrana wanted to develop a comprehensive plan for complying with the PI (Performance Indicator) scoring system issued by the The Green Grid, an industry non-profit consortium that works to improve the resource efficiency of data centers. It was part of an effort Citigroup undertook with the assistance (financial and technical) of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which helps companies become more energy efficient.

The Green Grid’s multipoint PI scoring system takes into account more than energy efficiency (i.e., the traditional efficiency metric), it also encompasses IT thermal conformance, which is the percentage of IT that operates at suitable “inlet temperatures” during normal operation, and IT thermal resilience, which is the percentage of IT that operates at suitable inlet temperatures during cooling failure and planned maintenance.

“The Future Facilities product is the most detailed way and the most complete way to calculate that score,” Pastrana told EnterpriseTech. “You can really represent the physical datacenter space in a lot of good detail. It provides a lot of information about the health of the facility – and that can be for any state of the facility, the current state, for future states. Which is really the key, right? As a planning organization, we’re really interested in understanding in potentially what might happen if we make certain changes to the datacenter. Being able to model the future is really the key for us.”

He added that “engineering simulation was especially attractive to us because...often what you’re expecting to see as a result [in a datacenter], you don’t always get. Simulation was a really good interim step for us to understand the impact of doing something we wanted to do.”

Future Facilities sells 6SigmaDCX to three market segments, according to Akhil Docca, corporate marketing and product strategy manager: datacenter engineering and consulting firms, owner/operators of on-prem or public cloud datacenters, and datacenter colocation vendors.

“We enable what we call the virtual facility, which mimics the real facility,” Docca told EnterpriseTech, characterizing Future Facilities’ datacenter simulations as “a graphical overlay on top of DCIM.”

“A business looking to build a new datacenter or expand a datacenter can try it out in the virtual facility in a risk free way. We’re trying to enable better decisions for pretty much anybody in the datacenter ecosystem," Docca said.. We tell them that once they have a virtual design of their datacenter they can play pretty much any game they want. If they’re going to do an infrastructure upgrade or add more equipment or remove old equipment and make a lot of changes to their facility, they can (test it out) in a virtual environment.”

At Citigroup, Pastrana and his team used 6SigmaDCX’s Virtual Facility (VF) application initially for diagnostics of the New York datacenter and to fix a range of issues, primarily within the cabinets. For example, in several of the facility’s network cabinets, VF simulation showed IT exhaust flow directly feeding into the inflows of neighboring IT, raising equipment inlet temperatures and contributing to the facility’s thermal compliance problems.

Citigroup designed and simulated blanking solutions to prevent recirculation. VF identified the worst performing cases where remediation would have the biggest impact. This reduced inlet temperatures by 27 percent, according to Pastrana.

He said that post-remediation, the datacenter achieved 100 percent thermal conformance and resilience, thus meeting Citigroup’s objectives. The PUEr score was improved to within 1 percent of The Green Grid’s suggested range of compliance. Citigroup estimates that the remediation resulted in more than $290,000 in potential annual energy savings.

Pastrana said Citigroup plans to implement 6SigmaDCX and VF models across its datacenter portfolio. The software’s integrations with asset management and DCIM tools will expedite this process, allowing the company to utilize their existing data for faster VF model building and calibration.

“The holy grail is to have this be a regular part of our processes,” Pastrana said.

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