The new green data center: From energy avoidance to energy efficiency

By Greg Schulz, ITworld |  Green IT, book, energy efficiency

In my research talking with IT pros around the world, I have found that only 10-15% of respondents say that their organizations have a green mandate or a carbon reduction focus. But if I ask those same people if they have a concern or requirement to boost productivity, reduce costs, address power, cooling, footprint along with technology disposition issues while facing growth and shrinking budget requirements and the responses jump into 55-75% range.

This is an example of the “Green Gap” -- the perception that green is all about reducing carbon footprints.

In fact, there many different facets to being green, a key one being that by addressing business issues or barriers, enabling efficiency and productivity with an optimized environment, the benefits are both economic and environmental.

From a near-term tactical perspective, green IT is about boosting productivity and enabling business sustainability during tough economic times, doing more with less, or, doing more with what you have. On a strategic basis, green IT is about continued sustainability while also improving top and bottom line economics and repositioning IT as a competitive advantage resource.

Energy avoidance or energy efficiency?

There has been an IT industry focus on energy avoidance, as it is relatively easy to understand and it is also easy to implement. Turning off the lights, turning off devices when they are not in use, enabling low-power, energy-savings or Energy Star (now implemented for servers with storage being a new focus) modes are all means to saving or reducing energy consumption, emissions, and energy bills.

Ideal candidates for powering down when not in use or inactive include desktop workstations, PCs, laptops, and associated video monitors and printers. Turning lights off or implementing motion detectors to turn lights off automatically, along with powering off or enabling energy-saving modes on general-purpose and consumer products has a significant benefit. New generations of processors such as that provide the ability to boost performance when needed, or, go into various energy conservation modes when possible to balance performance, availability and energy needs to applicable service requirements, a form of intelligent power management.

Avoiding energy usage, similar to following a rationing model, will affect the amount of work that can be accomplished. Another approach is to boost energy efficiency, either by doing more work using the same amount of energy or the same amount of work using less energy.

Figure 1 Many Faces of Energy Efficiency
Source: "The Green and Virtual Data Center"

The energy efficiency gap is the difference between the amount of work accomplished or information stored in a given footprint and the energy consumed. In other words, the bigger the energy efficiency gap, the better, as seen in the fourth scenario, doing more work or storing more information in a smaller footprint using less energy.

Given the shared nature of their use along with various intersystem dependencies, not all data center resources can be powered off completely. Some forms of storage devices can be powered off when they are not in use, such as offline storage devices or mediums for backups and archiving. Technologies such as magnetic tape or removable hard disk drives that do not need power when they are not in use can be used for storing inactive and dormant data.

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