Greener Data Centers: Brian P. McCann, CMO of OnPATH Technologies Explains How The "Virtualized Infrastructure Layer" Can Save Resources

cable mess al carbonara photo

Data Center "Cable Mess" Al Carbonara

What a tangled web (of data cables) we wired ones have woven in the last 20 years, gratifying our virtual cravings with ever more power, plastic, copper, and greenhouse gas. Brian P. McCann, CMO of OnPATH Technologies spoke with TreeHugger about his company's novel approach to lessening the footprint. Don't be put off with the "virtualization layer" lingo. Brian gets to the heart of the matter in short order.

Until recently, demand for data center services was always met with more buildings, cables, equipment, and energy. You offer the alternative of smart growth. Does than mean your product would be extending the useful life physical "stuff" in data centers?

OnPATH Technologies' solution is a physical layer switch (IT hardware) that enables data centers to initiate a "virtualized infrastructure layer" (VIL) using our software. So what does a VIL mean and how does it enable smart growth? Well, typically in a data center, there can be a lot of cable moving and over/underutilized equipment. Our hardware switch helps to virtualize the physical layer by automating any cable moves and providing insight (via control software) into the equipment the cables are attached to.

So, the benefit from green perspective is the ability to see where other data center equipment is over or under-utilized (load balancing). This allows data centers to efficiently utilize the equipment that's already on-site, and helps reduce the need for new equipment—saving on space, power/cooling consumption.

Any plan for smart growth should factor in existing infrastructure and components and how they are being utilized. Virtualizing the physical layer allows data centers to also to redeploy existing assets in new ways, recycle equipment, and effectively extend the useful life of numerous data center components.

How does the product serve the needs of expanding data centers?

When a next generation data center is being considered, planning starts at the physical layer (where all the cables, patch panels, test equipment and physical layer switches reside). Think of it as plumbing for the data center. But what isn't usually considered is how the data center equipment will grow over time, putting added stress on the physical layer as the years pass.

What the OnPATH switch does is help data center managers automate and simplify, from the beginning, the management of the cables and the equipment those cables are attached to. It also helps data center managers to monitor the equipment for over/under-utilization.

As time goes on, IT managers can see if they are properly utilizing the equipment they have and reducing the need to by duplicate equipment. As well, because the switch is cabled up once, there is no need to ever move cables. This helps to save on huge wastes from idling equipment and cable costs. Even though cables are seen as a commodity, over time the replacement costs add up. When you aren't moving cables, it's less likely that old cut, damaged, and broken cables will be left under the floor to impede air flow, which increases power and cooling costs.
You mentioned time savings and IT employee productivity as major benefits of using your switch. Environmental benefits stem from the fact that multiple data centers can be managed at once, from one location, and employees need not travel to get changes implemented. Is that it or have I missed something?

That's correct, multiple existing data centers be managed from one location. And when it comes for the planning of future data center growth or building a new data center, a "follow-the-sun" remote access approach can be implemented. This approach eliminates the need to operate duplicate IT resources in multiple time zones and provides scalability and flexibility of a "lights out, hands off operation" via local and remote access. This is also important when it comes to power and cooling resources because many data centers are built for secondary disaster recovery usage.

The other key point is the ability to remotely monitor network performance and diagnose problems. Broken cables, incorrect connections or inadvertent disconnects can take hours, if not days, to solve. Having an intelligent view of all physical infrastructure health and activity significantly improves staff productivity and equipment up-time.

Data centers are struggling to keep electricity consumption down, while demand for use creeps upward. It's likely to be an eternal struggle and more developing countries get internet access. Can you explain how using OnPATH switches further the efficiency goal?

It is definitely an eternal struggle, and even for data center operators who can afford to keep up, the smarter decision is to squeeze as much efficiency out of current consumption levels as possible. In fact, I've spoken with some Fortune 500 companies, recently, who have been advised of a coming control of power usage in the form of an energy cap. As a move towards sustainable energy levels, this is great: however, companies will need to adapt.

It's all about maintaining output while slowing growth of new systems. Many data center environments are over-designed and over-purchased to ensure full bandwidth availability and continuous up-time. A VIL, on the other hand, is more efficient and maximizes existing network servers and server infrastructure.

Data centers that incorporate a VIL are able to do "more" with "less," trimming capital acquisition costs, enabling the sharing of IT equipment and eliminating the need to expand the data center's physical footprint. The energy savings of a smaller floor plan with fewer operating pieces are intuitive, including reducing new equipment purchases, and lowering cooling and powering bills thanks to streamlined operations.

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