Are data centers really meant to be green?

Are data centers really meant to be green?

Summary: I was chastised this week by an attendee at a panel I was moderating in San Francisco for using the term “green” to describe strategies intended to better manage energy usage within a data center.Data centers cannot be green because they aren’t meant to be, my audience member declared.


I was chastised this week by an attendee at a panel I was moderating in San Francisco for using the term “green” to describe strategies intended to better manage energy usage within a data center.

Data centers cannot be green because they aren’t meant to be, my audience member declared. For one thing, storage and server hardware doesn’t take kindly to be switched on and off, he said.

OK, this person is in the actual business of integrating networks and enterprise storage solutions for a major systems integration and IT consulting company and I most certainly am not. So I won’t argue with real-world experience. But I don’t happen to agree that environmental issues are hogwash when it comes to data centers.

Forget the green term if you must, but the movement to better design and manage data center facilities is unstoppable for two very real reasons: energy costs continue to rise while capacity continues to become increasingly constrained.

That’s why I’m always really interested in green technologies that support this philosophy. And it's why I agreed to speak last week with Ken Oestreich, product management director for Cassatt, a green tech company in San Jose, Calif.

Cassatt’s latest software, called Cassat Active Response, is designed to do pretty much what you would expect it to do. That is, it monitors and responds to server utilization levels and takes action to power them down depending on what an administrator tells it to do. The brains in the product is something that Cassatt calls Active Power Management.

Idle servers use at least half as much power as active ones, according to Oestreich, which makes for some serious low-hanging fruit if your company is looking for ways to ratchet back power consumption. Not addressing the situation is the “moral equivalent of leaving your lights on,” he says.

While some businesses are beginning to adopt better power management discipline for their desktops and other client hardware, they can realize an even larger per-system savings by addressing their servers as well. Oestreich quotes figures from an Environmental Protection Agency report on data centers suggesting that the average savings per server could be between $100 and $200, compared with $40 to $60 per PC. The version 5.0 standard edition of Cassatt’s software is priced starting at $200 per managed machine.

I absolutely think Cassatt is worth your attention.

Topics: Storage, Data Centers, Hardware, Servers

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  • Green Data Centers

    There are different methods that a data center can use to cut back on electricity usage. For instance a lot of power is used to cool down the data center. In our server room we have a redundant cooling system which consists of 2 air conditioning units. We are constantly recirculating the air. However, we could develop a system that brings in cold air from the outside during the winter when the temperature is cooler.

    Another method of reducing electricity is the use of fewer monitors. Monitors can sometimes use a lot of electricity; more than the average PC. By using a thin LCD flat panel and sharing a monitor between multiple servers you can possibly cut down on power usage a bit.

    This will not perform miracles, but it might help.
    • Green Data Center

      Pumping air inside during the winter would still require power, maybe not as much as the airconditioner, but more than you think. Why? Because most data centers also must control humidity and in the case of many, they have fir suppression systems that need the room to be completely isolated, including duct work from outside.

      But there are many ways to make a datacenter more green. Replace older servers with new blade centers which generally use less power. Doing this also can reduce the amount of space needed for a data center which also reduces cooling costs. Replace old disk enclosures with new disk enclosures that use less energy and produce less heat. Implement and USE a VM solution for many of the servers, especially non critical and testing and development systems further reducing the number of servers sucking up energy, taking up space, and producing heat.

      And there is new hardware that is still expensive and just starting to show up, but that is solid state hard drives (not really hard drives but realy just storage devices). Anyway, they're still too small and expensive, but that will change soon. And these things will use a fraction of the energy and produce a fraction of the heat that their counterparts do.

      Case in point, we're replacing an old disk enclosure that had 96 disks in it with a new one that will have 16. Total power consumption savings for our data center is expected to be near 20%. Many of our servers that have been replaced in the last 2 years have been replaced by blades or virtual machines. While the size of our datacenter hasn't shrunk yet, the amount of available floor space in our datacenter has increased in the last 2 years as a result of using blades and VM's.

      So, I think that while Data Centers may never meet the true definition of being green, I think that much can be done right now to make data centers much more green than they have been in the past or are now. In fact, with new solid state drives, 45 nonometer cpus and memory chips, and better cooling systems, servers should be able to consistently get below 100 watts in the near future. I know some of the processors are already down to 80 - 85 watts. And with dual and quad cores they're more powerfull that many of the serves our there now.
  • Once again

    The solution is ways to provide cheap, abundant energy,
    and the answer to that is simple.

    One. Understand that carbon dioxide is a nutrient and not
    a pollutant.

    Two. Understand that CO2, compared to water vapor is a
    trivial greenhouse gas.

    Three. Understanding one and two, build more coal power
    • And then,

      Four: Understanding 1, 2, and performing 3, fill your closets with short-sleeve shirts, Bermuda shorts, and wide-brim hats, and take advantage of current cheap prices for what will soon be valuable beachfront property in Kansas.
    • CO2 nutrient - but for who?

      1. CO2 is a nutrient to plants - not people. People expel CO2 as a waste byproduct (similar to coal plants).
      2. I'll buy that. CO2 comprises an incredible small percentage of our atmosphere, considering all the attention it receives. The science on the true effect of CO2 as a greenhouse gas and contributer to (questionable) global warming is inconclusive at best.
      3. Coal plants? Even with the newer, cleaner coal plants, which might be viable means for power production (especially in places like China that are rife with coal) - the process of getting the coal is ridiculous - you ever look at the cancer rates among coal miners (when the mines aren't falling on their heads). In addition to the risk of coal fires, which don't stop burning until all the coal in the mine is gone, which is decades.
    • Genius, except for one thing...

      Coal fired power plants produce far more deadly pollutants than mere CO2. Carcinogens like benzpyrene for example, kill thousands.

      Nuclear power is the most environmentally friendly power option there is, but nobody's willing to touch it because it's "scary."
  • RE: Are data centers really meant to be green?

    "For one thing, storage and server hardware doesn???t take kindly to be switched on and off"

    Well that's your problem right there. The guy who made this statement is being aggressively stupid.

    Nowhere, ever, in any context, does, or has, the term "green" mean "switching things on and off."

    To try and strip down a complex subject to such a simple soundbite indicates that this individual is either
    A) Flagrantly ignorant of the subject
    B) Deliberately blowing smoke because of his own personal agenda.

    Those are the only two possibilities, there is no way a rational and thinking person could possibly claim that reducing energy consumption is harmful.

    The simple fact is that energy consumption COSTS MONEY. Show me a business that doesn't care about energy consumption and I'll show you a business that is doomed to fail.