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The Network Observer: Optical Storage Saves California
Posted Apr 1, 2001 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

April 2001|The State of California suffers from a chronic lack of electrical power. Recently, they've resorted to rolling blackouts—sending sections of the state into darkness for an hour or two to conserve power. Hopefully, by the time you read this, suppliers will have a rational solution to this, but I doubt it. Come summer, the sheer volume of air conditioning in the Sunshine State will put significantly greater demands on the already-overstrained power grid, which will likely lead to more blackouts.

The State of Tennessee is capitalizing on California's problems in its new marketing campaign to attract new businesses to the state. They ship brightly colored boxes to potential "clients" proudly proclaiming, "The lights are still on in Tennessee!" and enclose a flashlight. I admire someone who has the creativity to exploit the Sunshine State's sad state of affairs. And perhaps somewhat less self-servingly, I'd also like to propose a solution of my own: optical storage.

Before you dismiss this as idle talk, have you ever considered how much energy the IT industry demands? Did you know that some analysts suggest that the growth in the Internet accounts for 50% of the increase in the demand for electricity in the U.S. in the last year alone? Needless to say, the electrical industry didn't (and probably couldn't have) predicted the impact the Internet might have on consumption, particularly in California, the home of Silicon Valley.

It seems that California enters its most dire energy crisis (called a Stage 3 Alert) when its power reserves fall below 1.5%. It is during a Stage 3 alert that rolling blackouts will occur. Given that the state uses about 20,000-25,000 megawatts per hour on average, then 1.5% is 300 megawatts. (Check out California's eye-popping power consumption at www.caiso.com.) We need to find a way then to save California at least that amount to eliminate the need for rolling blackouts.

Consider this: it takes one kilowatt to store two megabytes of data per hour. That doesn't seem like much until you consider how much storage we are talking about today. EMC, one of the major players in enterprise storage, says that in 1993 mainframes worldwide only required 75TB. Today, it installs single data centers each with over 100TB.

The PC side has grown enormous as well. Microsoft claims that its NT servers hosted just 11 petabytes worldwide in 1996, but this had ballooned to 39PB by the end of 1998. Even given some corporate puffery, a doubling of NT storage to 20PB (that's 20,000TB) has a major impact on power consumption.

In January 1996, Computerworld magazine predicted that worldwide storage requirements would grow from 11,096TB in 1996 to 59,661TB in 1999, an annual growth rate of 146%! And these numbers turned out to be much lower than the actual figures.

IDC, in its latest report, "2000 Disk Storage Systems Forecast and Analysis" (available at www.idc.com), says that units shipped in 2000 actually amounted to 302,550TB for disk storage subsystems. Even given that the IDC report is for the year 2000, the change was at least four to five times greater than Computerworld predicted. Is it any wonder that electric companies failed to anticipate demand accurately in 2000-2001?

IDC has even more bad news for the future. It says that in 2004, data centers and users worldwide will absorb 2,934,000TB of disc storage! (Propeller-heads, take note: we're not talking mere petabytes now, folks; we've climbed to almost 3 exabytes…)

OK, you say, California isn't the world. But California is the sixth largest economy on the planet. So we should be able to assume that the state absorbs at least some significant portion of that storage growth—at least 1/6th and probably more, since California is the home to so much software and hardware development, production, and use.

So, let's assume that in 2000 the state added 1/6th of the worldwide total or 50,425TB of data storage to some existing sum—perhaps doubling the total to 100,000TB. If we go back to our 1KwH per 2MB of data stored, we should note that this doesn't cover RAID configurations, which at least double the total power consumption due to the multiple spindle hardware. It also doesn't cover redundant power supplies or UPSs capable of keeping those RAID subsystems going. Nor does it cover the air conditioning requirement to cool those data centers with all those drives in them. So given these additional components, then, it is reasonable to assume that the total power consumption for California's data centers approaches 250-300 megawatts during any given hour.

If, on the other hand, that data were stored on optical jukeboxes, that data would not be revolving constantly and drawing power hour after hour waiting for requests. Instead, the data only needs to spin up after periodic requests. A jukebox-based data center might easily use 1/10th or 1/20th of the power of a RAID system. Since we could reduce power consumption due to reduced tape backup issues (optical being a more permanent media than tape), we could account for the continued 25 megawatts in that way.

Voilà! Californians now have 250 megawatts back, no blackouts, and the Sunshine State shines again. All thanks to optical storage systems. So take heart, jukebox vendors, and pray for a very hot summer in California.

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