Greening the data center

Rising costs of energy - along with limited availability of energy in some areas – are forcing the IT industry to take a new approach in designing and managing data centers, says IBM's Christopher O'Connor.
Written by Christopher O'Connor. IBM, Contributor
Commentary--Energy efficiency is a significant global issue today, and is expected to be even more important in the future. For the IT industry, concerns about affordable energy are playing out in data centers. Rising costs of energy -- along with limited availability of energy in some areas – are forcing the IT industry to take a new approach in designing and managing data centers.

Data centers have doubled their energy use in the past five years, while U.S. commercial electrical costs increased by 10 percent from 2005-2006. With continued projected increases in energy consumption, at some companies, the situation is critical. Gartner research firm estimates that 70 percent of the Global 1,000 -- the world’s largest enterprises -- will need to modernize their data centers within the next five years.

Yet, there are steps that organizations can take today to “green” their data centers, including:

Gain visibility into energy consumption of the data center.
At most enterprises, the IT organization does not get a bill for its energy consumption and does not have a good understanding of its energy consumption patterns. Did you know that in most cases the IT equipment only consumes about 30 to 40 percent of the energy in a data center? Understanding energy consumption and its trends are critical to taking steps that are most effective. Solutions are available from IT and power infrastructure providers that can provide real-time information on energy consumption.

For example, industry analyst Forrester Research has recommended that organizations measure the annual costs of their energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions and financial costs of operating “green IT” before making new investments. “Not only will this data offer a practical green IT starting point,” advises Forrester analyst Doug Washburn, “but without it, you cannot accurately quantify and report the benefits of your ‘greening’ efforts to senior management.”

Identify resources that can be unplugged.
Analysts tell us that in large data centers as much as 10 percent of the IT resources may not be running a workload that is needed. Tools that utilize automated discovery capabilities and can map resources to business services can simplify this task. Unplugging such devices provides a quick benefit with no impact to the business.

Turn up the temperature in the data center.
Most data centers are chilled down to 68-degrees Fahrenheit. IT equipment is designed to function properly at higher temperatures. Just like in your home, every degree increase in set temperature provides immediate returns in terms of energy costs.

Compress information.
The amount of information in organizations is exploding and is driving significant growth in deployed storage infrastructure. Yet in most cases, capabilities we have had for a long time are not being used to make a difference. Enabling compression in databases and e-mail systems can reduce the storage requirements from 30 to 80 percent, without costing a dime. Benefits can be derived from moving infrequently used information to tiered storage.

Consolidate and virtualize.
With x86 server utilization that often averages much less than 15 percent, server consolidation and virtualization can be very effective at reducing energy consumption. If an organization can simply increase average utilization from 15 to 30 percent, it can reduce the number of servers by half and have a similar effect on energy consumption.

These steps are often relatively simple to take, but provide significant returns. More critically, they lay a foundation for future energy efficiency efforts. Gaining visibility into energy consumption, energy costs and usage patterns, for example, enables organizations to take more advanced steps toward energy conservation. Solutions available today enable organizations to take systems offline when workload drops during evenings and weekends or to schedule workloads to off-peak hours when energy costs are lower. Understanding temperature gradients in the data center can directly lead to optimization of an HVAC operation.

So far we have only touched the tip of the iceberg. In certain industries, data centers are responsible for 30 to 40 percent of the energy consumption of an enterprise. Efforts focused upon data centers can make a significant impact upon the total "energy footprint" of an enterprise. However, in all industries, application of information technology can reduce the energy and environmental impact of the broader organization. Information technology, and in particular, software solutions can help organizations optimize and automate their business process for a lower energy footprint. Online collaboration -- instead of travel -- for face-to-face meetings can directly reduce travel costs and CO2 emissions.

By using these methods, IBM consolidated 3,900 servers onto 33 System z mainframes to achieve an 80 percent annual energy savings. By using instant messaging, web conferencing and other social networking tools instead of travel, the company estimates that it is saving $113 million per year in employee travel.

Without a strategic approach, organizations will be faced with trying to operate increasingly complex and costly data centers, infrastructures that can quickly become a burden to growth. ”Going green” can benefit an organization’s pocketbook, be good for the planet and attract the next generation of workers, who want to work for businesses that practice corporate responsibility. The key is to start now and share your stories so that others can benefit.

Christopher O'Connor, vice president of strategy and market management, leads IBM's green and energy conservation offerings for its Software Group.

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