Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

My story in Reno and receiving the Technologist of the Year award

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

A few nights ago I was honored to receive an award from NCET as Technologist of the Year. This journey started nearly 15 years ago, so I thought I would share more about it.

In 2002 I finished the build out of a colocation data center in Reno, Nevada. I never thought I would come to Reno yet an opportunity to lead a colocation data center company focused on middle sized but underserved cities was appealing for many reasons. Early with this data center in Reno I experimented with and used air economization and hot-cold aisle containment, each very unknown ways to improve data center energy efficiency, perhaps the first use of these techniques, and they did significantly reduce energy use.

Starting in 2004 and for over a decade I worked mostly remotely from Reno for Google (when we started buying, designing, building and operating internal data centers), and Equinix (the largest data center provider), DuPont Fabros (at the time second largest wholesale data center provider), Yahoo!, in which I managed global data center strategy and development at a time when we were building out large internal data centers and expansions around the globe. I also worked for BEA Systems before acquired by Oracle running their global data centers, and completed long-term marketing and product development consulting for Digital Realty, the largest wholesale data center provider, and many others, including Facebook and other Big 7 Internet companies. I call Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo! and eBay the Big 7, as they build, own and operate the majority of data centers, outspending data center capital every year of all of the colocation providers by a factor of almost 10. I have been lucky enough to work with five of these seven big data center companies.

In the midst of this, myself and others worked together to create and build the Reno Technology Park (RTP), the largest dedicated data center campus known at the time, located just outside of Reno in Washoe County. I worked with many companies to influence them to locate a future data center in Reno, and secured Apple as the first tenant of the RTP.

While maintaining a residence in the Reno area, with its very close proximity to Lake Tahoe, fabulous skiing, mountain biking, cycling and other activities that I love to do and have spent much time in the area for years playing. Yet with a home in the area, I avoid the congestion and high cost of living of the SF Bay Area and also a state income tax. There are many workers in technology companies that live and work in the Reno area and many like me that live in the Reno-Tahoe area yet commute to the Bay Area or elsewhere for work as needed, including executives of technology companies.

Because of the many great companies and people working in the Reno area I am even more humbled to receive this award. Thank you NCET and the board for this recognition and Abbi Whitaker for her nomination. Having developed data centers in over 20 countries and data center site selections in almost 30 countries as well as throughout the United States, I saw that Reno Nevada was a good place to locate data centers, and that they would be great for the local economy. I wanted to bring my industry to my home, and see the local economy continuing to grow and evolve.

I commend the team at EDAWN, Governor Sandoval and his staff including Steve Hill for helping to make these wins. I look forward to continuing to work with our community, all of you, NCET and EDAWN to see Reno’s economy grow and develop.

Apple+Reno+Solar = “Controllable Power”

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Some of you know that I have developed the Reno Technology Park along with a few others. I am the sole data center expert in the group and when I first viewed the property, I saw that it had potential as a site for data centers with the property being laced with electricity and natural gas transmission lines, main fiber routes crossing thru the property, and proximity to clean power plants. However, that infrastructure was not enough to sway me to get involved. The project needed lower cost power and tax options.

At my insistence, we created some unique tax incentives, but as a data center power guy for nearly two decades negotiating power deals and developing power plants, I saw the real potential was for clean, “controllable” power. I brought Apple to the site last spring and they too saw the same potential.

Fast forward now just over a year, and Apple has one operational data center building, a second data center building fast approaching commissioning, and now an announcement of a nearby 18-MegaWatt solar project near the Reno Technology Park. Here are some links to public articles about these announcements:
http://www.macrumors.com/2013/03/27/first-phase-of-apples-new-reno-nevada-data-center-ready-to-open/
http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2013/03/27/apple-ready-to-roll-in-reno-with-a-coop/
http://www.rgj.com/videonetwork/2264915824001?odyssey=mod%7Ctvideo2%7Carticle
http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2013/07/02/apple-planning-solar-farm-next-to-planned-reno-nevada-data-center/
http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9240559/Apple_unveils_18_megawatt_solar_farm_to_power_cloud_data_center?source=CTWNLE_nlt_pm_2013-07-03)

Being under NDA with Apple, I cannot expand upon these articles with information from other sources. So let’s talk about what I mean by “controllable power”. The ability to take control of what I call the “Three C’s”: cost, capacity and control. Control being the deliverability, schedule and mix of that power, as well as controlling the future cost of the electricity. Cost being current and future costs, as when we plan to operate a data center, we must take into account the total electricity cost over the expected life, usually 10-20 years. And ideally, we don’t just want a low cost today, but more importantly a low average cost over that life cycle. I see too many folks run to a market with low-cost electricity today but not realize that those low costs will go up, and often within 1-3 years and to an average much higher than other location options. Predicting and seeing these future costs is one of the key advantages to using MegaWatt Consulting for your data center site selections and not another company, as I do not see any other company looking at all of the factors that will influence future data center costs like we do. Do you want to choose a site that has great costs before you start constructing yet high costs by the time you fill it and be surprised that your site is not a low cost site a few years from now, or go to a site that will continue to provide low costs for years to come?
And capacity is key, as there is a cost to bringing power capacity to a project and sometimes that is enormous. For example, a few years ago I was consulting for Equinix and the cost they were quoted by the utility to bring power capacity to a site was equal to nearly one-third of the construction cost for an entire new and large data center! That would have added nearly 50% to the total construction budget! I was able to negotiate that down to less than 10% of the total project budget, but still a very large expense and one that is often not accounted for during site selection TCO estimates. All proving the point that controllability of power over time–each it’s cost, capacity, mix and deliverability—provide significant benefits to a company and it’s costs over time.

Whether or not Apple is responding to pressure from Greenpeace, NY Times’ articles, their stockholders, consumers or other shareholders, having a data center site that can provide flexibility for the many factors over time is key to adjust to changing needs. Whether those needs are costs, the fuel mix, deliverability or reliability of that power, all provide significant benefits when they can be controlled to meet changing needs over time. And all needs change over time, and being that electricity cost drives a 10-year Net-Present Value analysis of data center ownership, “controllable power” is essential to good data center cost management.

If you’d like “to take control” of your data center’s a key driver of current and future costs, as well as combat changing pressures from shareholders, markets and other factors, let’s talk about some options.

Coal Burning Power Plants must Finally Reduce Mercury emission

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Coal burning power plants account for the vast majority of the mercury that we contact. I’ve read statistics that 80-95% of the mercury that we contact comes from coal burning power plants. In the US, it is estimated that coal-fired power plants are responsible for half of the nation’s mercury emissions.

The mercury in the emissions literally rains down on the oceans and land falling on crops that we eat, in the rivers and oceans that we fish, and on our backyards and into our lungs. Mercury leads to many very serious mental and physical disorders.

“According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, mercury is responsible for thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks. It can also damage children’s nervous systems and harm their ability to think and learn. The mercury, in essence, falls back to earth where it gets into the food chain.” (energy biz, “Obama Showers Coal with Mercury Rule”, Jan 3, 2012–http://www.energybiz.com/article/12/01/obama-showers-coal-mercury-rule). I’ve read in EPA reports that there is estimated to be 50,000 pre-mature deaths every year in the US due to the emissions from coal-burning power plants. Imagine loosing an entire city of 50,000 people every year? That is a city in population not much different than Palo Alto, CA. And that figure does not count the number of lung-related issues such as asthma that develop from these emissions.

Well, the Clean Air Act provides each of us the right to clean air. As such, in December, 2011, “the EPA carried out its obligation under the 1990 Clean Air Act and demanded that coal-fired power plants implement the available technologies to reduce their emissions by 90 percent.”

These regulations are not a shock to most utilities, as they have been aware of the pending regulations for some time (since the clean air act was put into law), and most utilities actually support the law as it allows them to shut down old coal-fired power plants, which are a financial, legal and environmental liability in exchange for building new, cleaner burning and more efficient power plants. These new regulations really only affect coal plants that were constructed 30 to 50 years ago. The operators can choose to have them meet the new requirements or shut down and replace them with new, more efficient and less polluting plants– a decision compelled not just by the new regulations but also by the need to compete with lower cost shale gas. Since most utilities in the US get a return on building new infrastructure, it is good business to build new power plants. Essentially, it sets a more level playing field to the 1,400 coal-fired US power plants and ends 20 years of uncertainty about these regulations.

Will these new regulations cause electricity prices to increase? Yes, but not likely significantly, as the “EPA estimates that the cost of carrying out the new mercury rules will be about $9.6 billion annually. But it also says that payback will be as much as $90 billion by 2016 when all power plants are expected to be in compliance, or closed. The agency expects “small changes” in the average retail electricity rates, noting that the shift to abundant shale-gas will shield consumers.” I agree with that assessment, as shale-gas will keep prices down. Even though “The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity says that the new mercury rule, in combination with other pending coal-related regulations, will increase electricity prices by $170 billion” through 2020, a estimate not much different than the EPA’s and also one to likely have a very minimal affect on electricity prices since it is such a small percentage of total electricity spend per year.

The same group says that “Coal helps make electricity affordable for families and businesses,” says Steve Miller, chief executive of the coal group. “Unfortunately, this new rule is likely to be the most expensive rule ever imposed on coal-fueled power plants which are responsible for providing affordable electricity.” Of course, when one accounts for health-related costs, the new emissions rules are far less costly than paying for your son’s asthma medicine and your father’s lung cancer treatments. Finally, we are getting slightly cleaner air, something the clean air act provided to us by law over 40 years ago.

Call for Case Studies and Data Center Efficiency Projects

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

As many of you know, I have chaired what has become known as the SVLG Data Center Efficiency Summit since the end of it’s first year’s program. That was fall of 2008. A wonderful summit held at Sun Microsystem’s Santa Clara campus. This has been a customer-focused, volunteer-driven project with case studies presented by end-users about their efficiency achievements. The goal is for all case studies to share actual results of the savings to show what works, best ways to improve efficiency and to provide ideas and support for all kinds of efficiency improvements within our data centers. We’ve highlighted software, hardware and infrastructure improvements, as well as new technologies and processes, in the effort that we all gain when we share. Through collaboration we all improve. And as an industry, if we all improve, we avoid over-regulation, we all help to preserve our precious energy supplies and keep their costs from escalating as quickly. We all help to reduce emissions generated as an industry and drive innovation. In essence, we all gain when we share ideas with each other.

As such, I have thought of this program to be immensely valuable as an industry tool to efficiency and improvement for all. Consequently, I have volunteered hundreds of hours of my time and forgiven personal financial gain to chair and help advance this program along with many other volunteers who have also given much of their time to advance this successful and valuable program. I do not have the resources to continually give of my volunteer time–I wish I did–but do hope to provide more support or time with future corporate sponsorship.

I do hope that you can participate in this valuable program and the corresponding event held in the late fall every year since 2008. Below is more information from the SVLG. You can also call me for more info.

Attention data center operators, IT managers, energy managers, engineers and vendors of green data center technologies: A call for case studies and demonstration projects is now open for the fifth annual Data Center Efficiency Summit to be held in November 2012.

The Data Center Efficiency Summit is a signature event of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group in partnership with the California Energy Commission and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which brings together engineers and thought leaders for one full day to discuss best practices, cutting edge new technologies, and lessons learned by real end users – not marketing pitches.

We welcome case studies presented by an end user or customer. If you are the vendor of an exciting new technology, please work with your customers to submit a case study. Case studies of built projects with actual performance data are preferred.

Topics to consider:
Energy Efficiency and/or Demand Response
Efficient Cooling (Example: Liquid Immersion Cooling)
Efficient Power Distribution (Example: DC Power)
IT Impact on Energy Efficiency (Example: Energy Impact of Data Security)
Energy Efficient Data Center Operations
In the final version of your case study, you will need to include:
Quantifiable savings in terms of kWh savings, percentage reduction in energy consumption, annual dollar savings for the data center, or CO2 reduction
Costs and ROI including all implementation costs with a breakdown (hardware, software, services, etc) and time horizon for savings
Description of site environment (age, size or load, production or R&D use)
List of any technology vendors or NGO partners associated with project
Please submit a short (1 page or less) statement of interest and description of your project or concept by March 2, 2012 to asmart@svlg.org with subject heading: DCES12. Final case studies will need to be submitted in August 2012. Submissions will be reviewed and considered in the context of this event.
Interested in setting up a demonstration project at your facility? We may be able to provide technical support and independent evaluation. Please call Anne at 408-501-7871 for information.

We learn our skills in and out of the work place

Monday, September 19th, 2011

From time to time, I write a little about non-data center or energy things, just to mix it up and share with folks. Sometimes it is these blogs that generate the most interest and conversation from folks. Plus, I do believe that since we all work together, it’s nice to share some of our personal life with each other. After all, we are people working together based upon relationships, it is these things in our personal lives that drives us to work hard, and thus, they are essential parts of who we are as people and consequently, these personal things affect our daily work lives and relationships.

I also find that many of the things that I do in my personal life influence my work life. I’m sure we all find that at times, we reach an epiphany when walking the dog, talking to our spouse or friends, or some other activity that drives a decision or direction in our work the next day. I had one two weeks ago when talking with friends over dinner. But, that is not the topic of this blog.

Instead, it goes back another week but really starts when I was in college. I have always liked to push myself physically, and I get a lot out of those endorphins from a good physical challenge but also one with a mental challenge.

So I started mountain biking in college, riding longer and longer, more often and more often, until I was riding 365 days per year and training about 30+ hours per week. That on top of my 7-8 course load each semester (a consequence of earning multiple degrees simultaneously) and working part to full time year around. What can I say, I like to stay busy (also was on sports teams in addition to cycling, several clubs, an RA, etc, etc).

I then turned this “hobby” into training for races, became sponsored (it took me years to finish all those boxes of PowerBars I was provided), and finished races often in the top 10 out of hundreds or thousands of finishers. I earned enough points in my last year of racing and college to be in the top 10 nationally.

However, this, like many other hobbies, wasn’t my calling for a profession, and often hobbies and professions don’t mix very well. But I still get out to ride as often as I can and still love it. And do a race or two each year, purely for fun but also competitive. So on August 27th & 28th, I completed another 24-hour mountain bike race. I believe this is around my 6th, but I can’t remember nor have I been keeping track.

People ask how a 24 hour mountain bike race performs. Well, you ride a lap, usually about 10-15 miles long–which is usually takes about 45-90 minutes to finish–all on dirt, often much single track, climbs, descents, technical sections, fast sections, and complete as many laps as possible in 24 hours. Races can be completed as a solo team, or with up to 5 people on a team, trading off each lap in rotation, making each lap an all out sprint, then resting, downing as much water as your body can absorb, repairing your bike, recharging light batteries and trying to eat and sleep in the 45 min to 3 hour rest time before the next lap. Usually races start at about noon and end at noon the next day. Powerful bike light systems are used in the night laps, and the key is efficiency and speed while staying upright. Crashes not only hurt people–broken bones are quite common and sometimes trips in an ambulance for those racers that push their speed too fast for their ability at the time. Ability changes much after hours of riding, little sleep, little food, dehydration, and tired bodies. And especially at night when visibility is limited to a spot of light 5-20 feet in front of you as speeds exceed 30 mph in faster downhill and flat sections with still plenty of rocks, ditches and other obstacles to avoid.

The key to these races is to manage energy and speed to skill. Those that push too hard in the beginning of the race (a common mistake) or on any lap typically burn out before the race ends and either can’t finish it (often just finishing the race allows one to move up in the score board) or get hurt along the way.

So the key to 24-hour mountain bike racing is maintaining energy for 24 hours of riding with little sleep. It becomes somewhat of a mental game, especially in the late night laps. But even more so, a continual focus on the efficiency of every single pedal stroke–all 100,000 of them–and on the rest of the body, especially the lungs and heart. One must constantly “economize” while pushing their bike and self as hard (and consequently fast) as possible up every hill, down every descent, and around every lap to maintain the fastest average lap time. So any one slow lap kills the average, and hence, efficiency with the greatest speed. My lap times varied by less than 10%, even though temperatures ranged by 50 degrees F, some were in full sun, some in full dark; some with heavy traffic of other racers, some with passing  another racer only every 15 minutes; some with full energy, and last lap with maybe an hour of sleep over 24 hours, little food, and likely mild dehydration and most certainly tired legs and body, and even one with a mechanical and another with a flat tire.

In the data centers I design, efficiency doesn’t change much between hot and cold weather, day and night, packed full or empty of servers, mechanical failures or perfect operations. The key is being as efficient as possible all the time, not matter the adversity. It’s all about economizing and energy efficiency, just as my continuous focus in designing and operating data centers. I love it!

Here is a video of my most recent 24-hour race, the Coolest 24-Hours, which took place end of August in Soda Springs, CA (Donner Summit area of the Sierras). The race raised money for those dealing with cancer. In this video, I am the first rider out of the start of the 24 hour racers, wearing silver jersey, black and yellow cycling shorts with USD on the side (I still fit in my college cycling team shorts almost two decades later), red single speed 29″ Niner bike. I enjoyed being in first place for about the first mile before some of the racers pass me. You can see me do a little jump off the pavement start onto the dirt and also my buddy and fellow racer Stewart do the same in his third place position with red & white Niner Bikes jersey. I posted a photo of my aunt along the course–who died of cancer not long ago–which many photos of survivors and victims can be seen staked in the ground at the first turn. I finished the race with a smile, a dirty face, a dusty body, a respectable finish, and another lesson in efficiency. Enjoy the video and getting out to learn more! Here is the video: The Coolest 24 Hours, 2011–KC leads the pack at the start of the 24 hour race