The new green data center: From energy avoidance to 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.
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.
Avoiding energy use can be part of an approach to address power, cooling, floor space and environmental (PCFE) challenges, particularly for servers, storage, and networks that do not need to be used or accessible at all times. However, not all applications, data or workloads can be consolidated or powered down due to performance, availability, capacity, security, compatibility, politics, financial and many other reasons. For those applications that cannot be consolidated, the trick is to support them in a more efficient and effective means.
Simply put, when work needs to be done or information needs to be stored or retrieved or data moved, it should be done so in the most energy-efficient manner aligned to a given level of service.
General approaches to boost energy efficiency include:
- Do more work using the same or less power (and subsequently cooling)
- Leverage faster processors/controllers that use the same or less power
- Apply applicable RAID level to application and data QoS requirements
- Consolidate slower storage or servers to a faster, more energy-efficient solution
- Use faster disk drives with capacity boost and that draw less power
- Upgrade to newer, faster, denser, more energy-efficient technologies
- Look beyond capacity utilization; keep response time and availability in mind
- Leverage intelligent power management (IPM), adaptive voltage scaling (AVS), and other techniques to vary performance and energy usage
- Manage data both locally and remotely; gain control and insight before moving problems
- Leverage a data footprint reduction strategy across all data and storage tiers
- Utilize multiple data footprint techniques including archive, compression and de-dupe
- Reduce data footprint impact, enabling higher densities of stored on-line data
Finding a balance
Addressing green and PCFE issues is a process; there is no one single solution or magic formula. Strive to find the right mix of energy avoidance and energy efficiency, balancing the need to store more data in a smaller footprint using less energy and the need to process more data in less time efficiently for productivity. It comes down to time and space, that is, balancing data movement and processing rates with storage space capacity utilization. Sometimes more is not better for performance when it comes to ratios or the number of components in a solution.
Green washing and green hype may fade away, and let's hope they do. But PCFE and related issues along with initiatives that enable IT infrastructure optimization, productivity and business sustainability are here to stay. Addressing IT infrastructure optimization and efficiency is essential to IT and business sustainability and growth and enables the shift from talking green to being green.
About the author Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm with focus and background in servers, storage, networking, hardware, virtualization, software and services as an IT professional, vendor and industry analyst. Having published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers Greg is a frequent and popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.
"The Green and Virtual Data Center" published by CRC press (Taylor & Francis Group). January 2009, ISBN-10: 1420086669 and ISBN-13: 978-1420086669, Copyright 2009, hardcover approximately 376 pages with over 100 illustrations, figures and tables. Look inside the book at http://www.amazon.com/reader/1420086669 and learn more at www.thegreenandvirtualdatacenter.com.