Living on the edge: Dell EMC’s micro data center and the PI System
Legend has it that whenever the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the world's first vacuum-tubed computer, was turned on at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia's lights would dim. Dubbed a “Giant Brain” by the press when the switch was first flipped on Valentine's Day in 1946, ENIAC consumed 150 kW of electricity and weighed 30 tons.
Over half a century later, computers have shrunk to the size of a fitness wearable. (One of the smallest is one millimeter cubed.) But while the rise of PCs in the 80s has minified the computer, the rise of cloud computing a decade ago ushered a counter reaction. As companies rushed to migrate their applications to centralized data centers in the cloud, data centers began to rival Pentagon in size. In 2014, their operations accounted for 2 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption.
But like the computer itself, the data center has recently started to undergo a trend towards miniaturization. Companies are discovering that trying to migrate all of their applications to the cloud generates bandwidth congestion, latency and cost. Sending data up to the cloud and back might not be fast enough for future self-driving cars and the billions of other smart devices woven into the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape. The answer for the next generation paradigm? Tiny data centers providing “edge” computing.
Edge data centers, small modular pods with a few racks of computing equipment, won't be replacing clouds. In the world of IoT, they will instead work in conjunction with them. An edge data center could perform predictive analytics and monitor equipment next to a wind or a solar farm, with much of the data never making it to a centralized data center. Engineers in the control room will only receive key performance indicators and critical data streams.
Today, Dell EMC is one of the companies at the leading edge of edge computing. Dell EMC's Extreme Scale Infrastructure (ESI) division has designed a new micro Modular Data Center (MDC) that brings computational equipment closer to the user to the edge of the network and reduces the amount of IoT data traveling to a centralized data center. While the new nimble-sized data center has a footprint smaller than half of a parking spot, the unmanned unit is a big step for Dell EMC's IoT initiative.
But with potentially thousands of micro MDCs spread out across the world - and no room to fit an operator inside the unit - Dell EMC sought out a better way to manage and monitor its highly complex system of resources. Working together, OSIsoft and Dell EMC built a proof-of-concept system in which the OSIsoft's PI System monitors the micro MDCs. By integrating the PI System into Dell's micro MDC, engineers are now able to monitor electricity consumption, avoid peak power charges, detect early warning signs of failure and other tasks.
Together with OSIsoft, Dell EMC developed a platform that combines OT and IT data from the PI System with geographical data in the cloud. The data platform acts as a “single pane of glass” for monitoring Dell EMC's entire data center infrastructure and relies on PI Vision, OSIsoft's web-based visualization application, to view and analyze the data on any device. Users can drill down from a geographical map of a service area to a specific micro MDC unit, visualize a group of servers inside the unit, and monitor the server itself while being able to look at the unit's power and cooling performance.
The result? Dell EMC is now able to identify underutilized servers inside its micro MDCs. This allows the company to conserve its data centers' batteries in the event of a power outage. By capping power to underutilized servers, Dell EMC will be achieving big savings in its smallest of MDCs.