Saving green by being virtually green

Few organizations realize that virtualization can be a critical link to creating a utopian world where IT can lower costs while at the same time be more green, according to Fortisphere's Lilac Berniker.
Written by Lilac Berniker Fortisphere, Contributor
Commentary--The focus of IT departments has shifted palpably in the last few months. Until last year, their focus was on becoming more environmentally conscious and making concerted efforts towards “greening the datacenters.” Today, the entire focus is on cost savings, cost avoidance and cost deferment. Few organizations realize that virtualization can be a critical link to creating a utopian world where IT can lower costs while at the same time be more green.

Historically, server consolidation has provided tremendous gains by lowering heating and cooling costs, limiting hardware needs and for many companies, enabling the wholesale dismantling of entire datacenters. Clearly, all those components helped save IT departments money but were they also ecologically sound moves? Also, what is next for IT departments once they have consolidated?

Our colleagues in the environmental world have done a thorough job indoctrinating us with the message of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Any grad school student knows it by heart and every shopping bag is emblazoned with the image of the green cycle. The same mantra can help progress the causes of both cost savings and greenness in the virtualized infrastructure.

Initially, server consolidation created a heavy reduction in servers and achieved extraordinary popularity. Consolidation is the functional equivalent of double-sided printing. It generates tremendous paper savings, of course but it doesn’t really mean that less is being printed.

On the other hand, what if a printing protocol could be built that never printed the footer on all emails, the cover page on all slide decks, and the “intentionally left blank” pages on all PDFs? Intelligently, it would not only reduce the amount of printing but also save paper resources.

The equivalent in virtualization is right-sizing the virtual machines. Many VMs have been allocated an excess of compute, storage, memory and network resources. As a vestige of the physical days, businesses seek to be prepared in the event of a spike, and request many gigs of memory, multiple CPUs, and often enough storage to last months. As the eventual spike is erratic and uncommon, the resources are wasted while not in use.

The first step, is to right-size VMs to their appropriate resource allocations based on their true usage. By cutting some of that wasteful printing, the ream of paper can last a lot longer.

Very early on, virtualization vendors realized that a key value of virtual machine technology was the portability of the workload. Thus, they created motion capabilities in their platforms and leveraged them for critical functions such as high availability and disaster recovery. Indeed, among the most cited reasons for a move to virtualization is the increased DR capability of the infrastructure.

Another side-benefit of this portability of workloads is the enablement of load balancing in the environment. When a VM spikes, it can be moved rapidly to a server with more room to accommodate its spike. The resources on the vacated server can be repurposed for the other VMs and after the spike, it can return to its humble home. Theoretically, in a balanced environment, it is possible to have high utilization on most of the servers most of the time.

Environmentally, this is the equivalent of reuse of resources. Capacity that would otherwise be wasted is used by a VM that can consume it, just as paper that would otherwise be discarded can be repurposed into a scratchpad. Server capacity is like an airline seat – once it’s gone, it’s gone. It is far more cost-effective to fly a full plane!

Recycling is the hardest part of the environmental process because it requires consumers to sort through their refuse and categorize it as recyclable. Then, someone must collect it and put it through the pulp extraction or bottle cleansing processes to create new products.

In the virtualization world, recycling is the decommissioning of idle VMs and the recreation of new VMs from their resources. Just as eco-signage encourages us to deposit our cans in a separate receptacle, virtual administrators must encourage their customers to flag VMs that are no longer needed. Perhaps, like with can collection, a financial deposit system could even be instituted. But, without those flagged virtual machines, the virtual infrastructure becomes a college dorm room, cluttered with empty beer cans which take up space, create chaos in the environment and are ultimately a waste of good, reusable resources.

The challenge for most companies today is that they have not instituted an environmental program around their virtual resources. Blowing through them is neither cost effective nor resource optimized. As the virtual infrastructure growth continues to exceed expectations, putting these programs and appropriate tools in place might seem burdensome. But what’s the environmental impact if you don’t?

Lilac Berniker leads Business Development and Marketing for Fortisphere(www.fortisphere.com), a Chantilly, VA virtualization management software company. She can be reached at lilac@fortisphere.com

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