4 Tips to Make Your Small-Business Data Center Green
As I mentioned during last week's Open Source Convention, the open source community is applying its philosophies to Good Works efforts that have little to do with the merits of sharing source code. Among them is the notion that, whether for economic or planet-savings reasons, it's a smart idea to make our data centers more Green. In a session titled, "Green Computing for the Little Guys: What Can a Fortune 2000 Company Do To Green Their Centralized Computing Resources?" moderator James Turner interviewed Bill Weihl, Google's Green Energy Czar, and Allyson Klein, Server Technology and Software Strategy Manager at Intel, about the ways modest-sized businesses can reduce their power and cooling requirements.
[ See also: Convincing the Boss to Accept FOSS ]
Obviously, large enterprises can justify making a big investment in Green computing because the payoff is noticeable. But Klein and Weihl assert that the benefits are even more meaningful for organizations with smaller data centers.
For example, said Weihl, Google has a three-pronged apporach to reducing its carbon footprint, which any company can adopt: make the servers themselves more efficient, improve the power supplies, and improve the actual data center. The easiest to tackle, Weihl said, is power supplies: "They are typically inefficient, and surprisingly easy to make more efficient."
Power Usage Effectiveness (POE) is a measure of how much energy a data center consumes. Google's data center, said Weihl, has a PUE of 1.2, which means a 20% overhead. "We do it by managing airflow really carefully," he explained, including the temperature of the air that goes into the servers. "Most of the overhead in the facility goes into the cooling plant," he said. Primarily, they use evaporative cooling towers rather than mechanical chillers.
It sometimes feels a little icky to quote a vendor on technical matters — surely they are biased? — but it's just as appropriate for vendors to think Green as it is for the open source community to do so. Perhaps more so. As Klein explained, the climate savers program — of which Intel was a founding board member — started in 2007 with a mission of helping PCs and servers to be more efficient. Companies that sign up for climate savers, she said, are committing their IT purchases to use efficent power supplies, energy-star rated equipment and the use of power management across the organization.
So how can your company save money in its data center, without approaching the CFO with shaking knees? Here's a few of the ideas they shared.
Use the power management that's already in your hardware. Up to 90% of desktop computers don't use power management today, according to Klein. No matter which OS you choose, there's some kind of functionality to turn off (or down) monitors, printers, and other equipment when the items aren't in use. "You can get free benefits just by changing user behavior," Klein pointed out.
Regulate your data center's hot aisles and its cool aisles. It's relatively cheap to buy systems to completely seal off the hot aisles and cool aisles from each other, said Weihl, "and that can make a huge difference. Those can save 20-40% of your [data center] electric cost." But if that "relatively cheaply" is still too hard to get past the bean counters, consider less expensive means to separate the hot and cool parts of the room. Plexiglass works fine. "Even just buy cheap shower curtains and put them in between," Weihl added. Yes, something that simple can make a difference in the corporate electric bill.
Is your thermostat in the right place? If you're paying attention to the temperature in the data center, be sure that the temperature is being measured in the correct location. The temperature down the hall may be "off" from the temperature next to the servers, said Klein. And while you're at it, look at what's underneath your raised floor; moving things around down there can change the hot and cool zones. "A data center is an ecosystem that needs to be kept in balance," Klein said.
Employ virtualization. Opined Weihl, "If you're not using virtualization, doing something to increase the useful utilization of your hardware, you're spending a lot more than you should." But don't treat virtualization as the One Right Answer, cautioned Klein. "Virtualization has its own issues," she said. It requires a lot of memory, which requires a lot of power. That's why blades (remember blades? they were going to be the next big thing...) are still relevant, the two panelists agreed. "Whether [blades] makes sense for you depends on what your real estate issues are," Weihl said. "Virtualization lets you pack more in less floor space. If you're in the middle of Manhattan, that matters more to you."
"Do the easy stuff when you're buying servers, routers, whatever," urged Weihl. "Insist on efficiency. Join the organization. Tell vendors that Green IT matters to you." If you don't vote with your dollars, Weihl and Klein agreed, the vendors won't be as motivated to change.