NetApp RTP Visit

Last week I had the great pleasure of visiting the NetApp campus in Research Triangle Park.  I had previously missed out on the opportunity to take part in an EBC trip with our reseller when we became a NetApp customer.  Things came up and the trip never happened.  Since I was going to be in the Raleigh area, I decided to take advantage of the proximity and pop in to see the folks at RTP and request a tour.  I also wanted to sit down with one of their desktop virtualization experts since my company is exploring the possibility of rolling out hosted desktops.

The data center tour was quite impressive.  Building 4 holds NetApp’s highly acclaimed Energy Star Data Center where they proudly show off the innovations that allow such a high energy efficiency.  Efficiency is measured in PUE, which is the ratio of total power used by the facility over the power used by the IT equipment.  Most data centers register a PUE of 2.0 while NetApp’s facility boasts a PUE rating of 1.2.  They cut the typical power usage almost in half by using some simple yet incredibly innovative features.  As Dave Hitz wrote in his blog article, two of these notable features are big fans and hot air, which were the very things I noticed when I toured.

The first thing I observed when I walked into the data center was the heat.  There was a heat wave last week and walking into the data center provided little relief!  I was suprised that it was not cooler since data centers are by nature, chilly.  It turns out the engineers discovered that outside air up to 74 degrees was sufficient enough to cool the equipment.  They just had to get this moderate air to the servers without mixing with the hot air.  Of course they have their hot and cold aisles, but the engineers went a step further and closed off the cold aisles with doors at each end to provide access.  They call this approach cold aisle containment.  Containing these cold aisles allows the moderate outside air to reach the IT equipment without being tainted by the hot air.  Thus they do not need to constantly use the chillers to cool the air.  The only times they have to chill the air is when the outside temperatures rise above 74 degrees.  This saves power costs since the chillers are used a smaller percent of the year.

The other noticeable thing was the wind tunnel flow of air through these aisles.  Inside the cold aisle, air was rushing through.  It is this increased air flow that also helps the moderate air cool the equipment by drawing the heat off the systems faster.  Faster air means faster cooling.  When we were on the second floor and standing on the vents above the hot aisles, I was again surprised by the amount of air gushing through the vents.

There are many other “cool” features and NetApp happily welcomes visitors every day to witness the innovative design.  They built an Executive Briefing Center (EBC) to welcome their customers and showcase both the data center and the storage efficiencies of their products.

This wasn’t the end of my trip.  I also had the pleasure of meeting with Chris Gebhardt, NetApp’s desktop virtualization guru.  It was awesome meeting him and especially meaningful as the work of my organization, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, has had a very personal impact for him.  We are ramping up our efforts to pilot test desktop virtualization and I was eager to speak directly with Chris about properly assessing our environment and employing best practices in the initial stages.  It was a very insightful discussion with him!  He had great tips and tools to share.  What an incredible contact to have!

Overall, it was a fabulous time spent at the NetApp campus.  I was delighted to hear how NetApp is truly trying to make a difference in the community.  They have been running their “Technology Saves Lives” campaign and I think it was great for them to see that our organization is in the pursuit of saving lives by curing a disease (which is a whole other story unto itself!)  NetApp also encourages its own employees to get involved and volunteer their time and energy in their communities.  And of course, their energy efficiency is yet one more example of a company trying to make a difference.  Bravo guys!

Special thanks to Will Graham for facilitating the tour and meeting.

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