Experts see data center through green lens

By Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service |  Green IT, energy consumption, environment

The data center is an area of IT that can reap benefits from using greener and cleaner technology, but experts who gathered in New York recently said CIOs still aren't doing enough to help the environment or their businesses by using green technology practices in their facilities.

It might surprise some CIOs how inefficient data centers still are when it comes to energy consumption, as many look and operate the same as they have for years, said Ruth Harenchar, vice president of Consulting Services at TechnoDyne, a privately held strategic technology consultant.

"The legacy data center is amazing to me," said Harenchar, who has seen her share of data centers during her more-than-20-year career. "If you have seen one data center, you have seen all that ever existed."

Harenchar was one of several experts speaking at the "CIO as Data Center Optimizer: Green Tech and Evolving Software Applications" conference at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn. Attendees at the daylong conference pondered ways CIOs can use green technology practices to improve the performance of data centers and cut energy costs.

Harenchar and others noted that energy inefficiency is a major pain point for CIOs when it comes to the data center, and they offered suggestions for how this problem might be remedied.

Cheemin Bo-Linn, CEO of Peritus Partners, pointed out that a company's data center typically takes up about 2 percent of its facilities space, but uses 40 percent of the energy. However, by using virtualization technology so fewer physical pieces of hardware are used in the data center, and by buying electricity according only to the data center's need -- among other strategies -- CIOs can reduce this energy footprint.

"Energy-efficient solutions make good business sense," Bo-Linn said. "But these solutions must have a credible, measurable path to profitability, be sustainable and [be] facilitated by favorable regulations.“

It is imperative that CIOs begin taking action sooner rather than later to achieve more energy efficiency because the industry as a whole is moving to adopt green technology, she said. "The current trajectory is one that is not sustainable," Bo-Linn said. "the pressures of change are going to continue to be there."

One of the main reasons for energy inefficiency in data centers is the cooling of systems, Harenchar said. "Cooling is killing you," she said, adding that it costs more to cool machines than it does to buy them.

Building or moving data centers underground, or doing both, cuts cooling costs, she said. "Machines don't care if they're underground," Harenchar joked.

CIOs can work with data-center architects -- an underutilized resource, in Harenchar's opinion -- to achieve a more efficient facility.

"The data center doesn’t have to be the same box it’s been for the last 70 years," she said, comparing current data centers to an "energy-guzzling SUV (sport utility vehicle)."

Another major reason for energy inefficiency in the data center is that in most organizations data is not well-managed or organized, and the same pieces of data are replicated countless times across the organization, Harenchar said. Having this data replicated on the network requires more storage and thus more storage systems running in the data center.

"You’re not going to get control of your situation if you don’t find a way to manage your data," she said.

Deploying a master data-management strategy across the organization could help solve the problem, although Harenchar acknowledged this is neither a simple nor inexpensive option for many companies.

Another way to maximize energy efficiency is to deploy desktop-management software, said Bo-Linn, estimating that an organization can achieve savings of 35 percent in energy consumption if the deployment is successful.

Before CIOs can begin implementing any of these fixes to make their data centers greener and cleaner, however, they need to get top management on board with the changes, Bo-Linn said. "Obviously, management needs to be involved or you won’t have a successful green effort," she said.

One way an entire organization's management team can make energy efficiency and other green efforts in the data center a priority is to take a "holistic approach" to everything that happens within the facility, making changes "for the good of the whole" rather than just one technology process or another, Bo-Linn said.

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