Last week I visited the CUSTOMER project at Coventry University. CUSTOMER stands for Coventry University STudents’ Optimisation and Management of Energy Resources and is one of the projects funded under the JISC Greening ICT Programme.
The rationale for the project is that residential energy use is accounting for just over 21% of the total energy use and CO2 emissions of the university (2008-09) HEFCE return). As with most universities, Coventry charges its students a flat fee to cover their rent and utility charges in its halls of residence, with a consequent lack of any financial or other incentives for students to be careful about this energy use. Indeed, it has not been possible for students to even know how much gas and electricity they and their fellow students were using.
CUSTOMER will try and see if there are ways to change this. They will do this by firstly installing meters for both electricity and gas (where appropriate) in a number of pairs of matched floors or units in three different halls of residence. The matched pairs are to allow for a control group. The three different sites have been chosen to represent a range of ages and types of student accommodation, from a 1970s tower block with a dining room for breakfast and dinner through a modern conversion of the old central post office in Coventry city centre to a part of the main residence which were built on the old Singer car factory site in the 1990s. Added to these are a number of individual houses that the university owns and rents to students.
The project will then see how best to engage with the students and connect them to the information that the meters will be producing. Various options are being explored, including working the university’s Serious Games Institute to produced simulations and feedback type interfaces that will allow students to investigate the impact of their behaviour change.
The project is overseen by the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Planning & Resource (Professor David Souter) and is a good example of cross-institutional working with involvement from IT services, Estates, Student Services, the Students Union, as well as academics from the Engineering & Computing Faculty and the Serious Games Institute.
For more information see the project blog:
and the details of the project plan etc:
Just finished a meeting with the project team from the Kit-Catalogue project at Loughborough University.
This project is taking an existing resource – a catalogue of equipment mostly of interest to engineering folk and making it into a resource that will be of use across the institution and the wider sector.
The underlying thesis of this project is that while there is a lot of expensive equipment in university laboratories and departments, other people in the same or a neighbouring institution are going out and buying another one. Kit-Catalogue aims to end this waste by firstly cataloguing all the equipment at Loughborough, and then making that information available to people across the university.
That’s the first step, later the plan is to involve local companies (there are some big engineering companies not far from the university and with whom the university has good links) as some of them have indicated that they have kit in their R&D facilities that could be of use to researchers. There is also interest from the research funding councils who now mandate that before a grant is made to buy new kit, the grant seeker must be able to show that they have satisfied themselves that the kit does not already exist and is available to use.
The intention is to release this system (its PHP and MySQL) as an open source offering, and to promote its uptake across the sector. One possibility is to have a kind of syndicated Kit-Catalogue, with local catalogues at institutions but the data available on a regional or even national basis.
Maybe we can link Scope 3 emissions data to items in the catalogue to show the environmental savings?
The project website is here:
There was a good turn out for the multiple JISC funded project workshop on Metering and Managing Energy Consumption in Data Centres held on the 12th July in Leeds. Delegates from a good number of universities across the UK, and a visitor from Dublin came together to discuss the issues around what to meter, how to meter it and how to use this data to drive improvements in data centre efficiency.
This workshop was a joint venture between these JISC funded projects:
First up was Roland Cross from Leeds Met, who described their work to improve their currently inefficient data-centre, while taking the time to meter and measure things to see just where the power is going.. They are tacking this through a combination of power upgrades, changes to air handling, hot/cold aisle separation and further virtualisation.
Roland’s presentation was followed by Colin Love from the University of London Computer Centre (ULCC). ULCC is a major co-lo site for HE and being able to charge their customers in relation to the power that they are using is of obvious interest to them.
Chris Cartledge, late of the University of Sheffield spoke next. He described the state of play with the university’s data centres. The picture is one that is probably familiar to a lot of people in the sector. This means plant and facilities that were built before people got really interested in data centre energy use, with poor air circulation and handling with mixing of the air flows.
Through all this discussion we keep coming back to a number of what are becoming familiar themes. One is the variable nature of metering – what do we meter and how? Do we meter at the power distribution board or at the rack or the individual box? What about metering embedded in the box itself?
Sheffield (with the help of funding from Salix) are working to make things better. A hot aisle is being introduced in one of the data centres, with a cold aisle in the other there there is no ceiling void. Racks will be sealed to prevent air mixing.
Sheffield is also working with the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres. The University now includes the cost of energy in some VFM calculations.
“By metering you are not changing anything!” The invetsment in metering only makes sense when you do something with the information.
After coffee and biscuits Michael Rudgyard from Concurrent Thinking spoke. Michael’s background was in HPC, and he has come to his current approach from a belief that a data centre needs to be holistically managed and monitored. He said that PUE is a good metric for planning a data centre, but is not much use for monitoring a DC. What is more important is how much of data centre energy is actually being used to do useful computing work? Should we be looking to develop a metric like “ITUE”? This could be on the basis of page impressions/watt, database transactions/watt, widgets sold/watt.
He identified a number of steps that can be taken. One is to identify and to eliminate servers that are doing nothing useful and making sure that equipment is up to date working properly. Another is the dynamic orchestration of virtual machines based on environmental, power and IT usage constraints. It’s also worth looking at active power management of servers during low utilisation periods.
Turning to what he termed “The Problem of Scale” Michael highlighted the drive for consolidation in organisations and across the sector with Cloud computing. Big cloud providers are driving efficiency by building their own servers and removing redundant equipment and writing their own software to be more efficient.
He went on to talk about some of the features of the two products that Concurrent Thinking are bringing to market. This includes Concurrent Command and Concurrent Control – more details here:
Good to see the work developing on the Power Down and Wake System project that JISC is funding under it’s Greening ICT Programme.
PAWS is designed to be an open source alternative to the various commercial packages that are in use around the sector. It will also provide a cost-effective solution for those sites that have no decent PC Powerdown solution.
PAWS is written in Java and will be cross platform and generic enough to be applicable to a lot of institutions and outside the sector.
PAWS is being developed and tested at Aberystwyth at present, but will be field tested at a couple of other Welsh institutions before being released to the open source community at the end of the year. The team will also be providing user documentation.
Follow the progress of PAWS at: http://paws.aber.ac.uk/
and find further information about PAWS and other projects funded under the Greening ICT Programme at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/greeningict/technical/paws.aspx