Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bovine Powered Servers

As our demand grows for computing power, energy efficiency, and data storage capacity, the ability to produce the power needed in data centers is simply not keeping up with the times. The notion of reducing energy consumption in data centers has led many vendors to pursue increasingly optimistic and sometimes downright quirky ideas. HP is one such vendor which hopes to use sustainable processes in order to build data centers that are self-sufficient. In other words, construct and design a data center whose electricity is generated from a sustainable energy source and whose heat output can be recycled and reused within that same data center. This model aims to give technology companies more options for powering their servers.

In India, for example, electricity is in such high demand that there just isn't enough electricity to keep many of the data centers that are being built there up and running. "In India they need diesel generators because the power grid can't keep up with the growth," said Chandrakant Patel, one of HP Labs researchers. Patel points out that an enterprising farmer with a few cows could be the solution to this energy crisis and even offer a fresh alternative energy approach for IT managers.

So what exactly does a diesel generator have in common with a cow?

As odd as this sounds, cow manure could be a possible solution for small and medium businesses looking for cheaper real estate and electrical alternatives. With the advent of high-speed networks, there is no longer a need to locate data centers within the confines of a big city and can now be located on cheaper land, such as in the rural fields next to a dairy farm. Your average dairy cow will produces 55 kilograms of manure per day which would generate 3 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy. According to HP, a dairy farm with 10,000 cows would produce enough energy to power a 1-megawatt data center, or approximately 1,000 servers.

This recycling process works as follows. Farms already have manure collection systems which utilize anaerobic decomposition methods to breaks down the cow waste much like a sewage treatment plant would. In current systems the biomass goes into an anaerobic digester and after decomposition is released as simple methane gas. However, in HP's vision, instead of a farm burning off the methane gas for energy, which is one of the most volatile greenhouse gases, the chemical energy in that methane could be converted into electrical energy to power the data center. To complete HP's sustainable and self-sufficient vision, the heat given off from data centers will be reused as part of the energy needed to break down the biomass.

This chart provided by HP Labs shows how cow manure and server heat from data centers can be combined to create a sustainable energy alternative.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Federal Agents Seize $143m in Fake Networking Equipment

Federal Authorities Seize Bogus Internet GearOver the past 5 years Federal authorities have seized more than $143m worth of counterfeit Cisco hardware and labels in a coordinated initiative called Operation Network Raider. The operation depends on the collaboration of several law enforcement agencies including the FBI, Immigration and Customs, and Border Protection Agencies which has so far resulted in more than 700 seizures and 30 felony convictions. Despite costing Cisco and other US networking enterprises millions of dollars in sales and technology, the real threat of these counterfeited routers and networking gear is on the level of national security.

In 2008, Ehab Ashoor attempted to traffic 100 gigabit interface converters that were illegally manufactured in China and contained fraudulent documents indicating they were genuinely produced by Cisco. The equipment was destined for the United States Marine Corps and was intended to be used as communication equipment in Iraq. This month Ashoor was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay Cisco $119,400 in restitution after being found guilty of trying to sell the counterfeit gear to the US Department of Defense. In January 2010 a Chinese resident was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay a restitution of $790,683 for trafficking counterfeit networking gear.

The prospect that our government and business networks may be at risk has propelled law enforcement agencies to work around the clock to crack down on these illegal distribution networks of bogus routers and switches. According to the Customs and Border Patrol there has been a 75 percent decrease in seizures of counterfeit networking hardware at U.S. borders from 2008 to 2009. Yet it is entirely possible that these scams could threaten national security as well as the financial well being of corporations by infusing critical networks with gear that is unreliable, or worse, riddled with backdoors and security vulnerabilities.

China has a well known reputation for doing whatever it takes to get the competitive edge and it has already been proven do–able by researchers at the University of Illinois that such vulnerabilities could be hardwired into a microprocessor. This hacked microprocessor could then log passwords and monitor networking traffic as well as other sensitive data passed through the equipment. However, Cisco has assured us that so far there is absolutely no evidence that such equipment has been tampered with on any scale to contain backdoors, but it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

EPA Delivers Draft 1.0 for Data Center Storage

EPA Draft 1.0The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to soon establish the final standards for its Energy Star certification for data centers. Currently the organization is holding sit downs with various storage firms and looking for feedback so that it can move forward with more precise standards for data storage systems such as enterprise hard drives and solid state drives. So far the EPA has already established Energy Star ratings for servers but as you can imagine establishing energy standards for storage solutions is a considerably more complex task. Unlike appliances such as a personal computer or printer, the efficiency of a data storage unit can depend on a wide range of variables such as configuration, controllers in use, power supplies and even software.

The EPA has made steady progress since April of 2009 when it first announced it would be moving forward with the program. Most recently the EPA has been collecting data from December 2009 through March 2010 to gain a better understanding of the dynamic between hardware/software configuration and energy efficiency, active and idle state performance, and sensitivity to single-configuration changes. The EPA has released the results of the research at this stage, entitled Draft 1 Version 1.0 Specification, which can be downloaded for free courtesy of Energy Star. If you're technically inclined the report has some pretty interesting results and may be worth the read.

Draft 1.0 comprises the idea of a "product family" certification, due to the fact that storage devices have a greater level of customization and configurability of products. The report also sharpens several key definitions. For example, the definition of a "storage product" includes components and subsystems that are considered an "integral part" of the storage product architecture, but specifically excludes products that are usually associated with a storage environment at the data center level. Only the storage product can be subject to Energy Star certification -- subsystems and components are not eligible for certification. The Draft also defines Active State, Ready Idle State, and Deep Idle State for those that want to take a look. If you happen to have comments about Draft 1, they're due to the EPA by May 21.

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