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The data centre: showcase for eco-responsibility and smart business

Going green represents a significant commitment to the environment, but it also is a crucial step to improving the cost-effectiveness of your company in general and your data centre in particular. By Dick Sullivan, EMC.

 

Date: 1 May 2008

In the heart of every company, knowledge is power. And no matter the industry, that knowledge is stored in a data centre, a facility near or far that houses the computer systems, and essentially the informational soul, of the company. With all the cooling controls, servers, and racks of equipment, many of today's data centres could be considered the SUVs of high-tech. They accomplish a lot, but their inefficiencies guzzle way too much energy. When it comes to devouring energy, data centres can be the single largest source of electrical power consumption for some large corporations and a good target for going "green".

As more attention is placed on energy consumption and as governments begin involving themselves in how to resolve these issues, the role of the data centre is changing. Before long, it won't be looked upon merely as an indicator of one's business advantage—it will also be considered a reflection of each corporation's environmental and social responsibility.

With a growing emphasis on global warming, diminishing natural resources, and greenhouse gas emissions, companies are seeking new ways to slash energy consumption. The high energy-consumption patterns of the data centre make it an ideal place to start, and those who already have transitioned over to a green data centre have discovered that it's not only a positive move for the environment, but it also makes good business sense.

Going Green is Really Going Efficient
A green data centre is designed for optimal energy efficiency and minimal environmental impact because all its systems—electrical, mechanical, lighting, water, and computer configurations—are created specifically with the intent to conserve resources. And what's good for the utility bills and the environment is also good for business.

In fact, in addition to the careful selection of its physical design and components, creating a truly efficient data centre also means implementing policies, processes, and organisational structures that lend themselves to good business practices as well as improved energy efficiency. The creation of a green data centre is not merely a matter of changing the physical components housed within a company; it also requires changing the way the company approaches its resources.

In the future, we can expect that all data centres will be built for efficiency with an environmentally conscious end-of-life disposal plan for each and every item under their roofs.

All materials will exceed environmental standards to reduce or eliminate toxins in the manufacturing process as well as in the final product. And the facilities will be designed with components such as solar roof panels, wind or water turbines, and some sort of liquid cooling that will replace DC power. However, for those with data centres that are rapidly approaching (or have already reached) their energy limits, the vision of tomorrow's green data centre does little to alleviate today's concerns. And the problem has already grown so large that it can no longer be ignored. Digital information is the driving force of today's business, and almost every activity, from shopping to accessing a library catalogue, relies upon it.

The IDC Digital Universe report projects a compound annual growth rate of 50 to 60 percent for digital information between 2007and 2010; and as that amount of digital data continues growing, so does the need to find more efficient ways to store, protect, and access it. At first glance, the obvious solution is to purchase more dedicated servers and storage. As equipment costs continue dropping, purchasing more machines is easier than ever. But it's a short-sighted solution. Purchasing more equipment only leads to an overloaded infrastructure that constantly demands more power and more space, and the actual costs of equipment far exceed the prices paid for them. The purchase price of a server is but a fraction of the total cost to run it during its lifetime; setup, support, and operation will contribute as much as 80 percent of the total cost of ownership. Obviously, the company that utilises technology and cuts energy consumption of its servers will see a tremendous financial gain.

Fortunately, there are numerous simple steps that companies can take immediately to begin minimising energy use and waste and start utilising resources more efficiently. Although there are many considerations in the creation of a green data centre, the most obvious and crucial criterion is that of energy consumption.

Perhaps the greatest incentive of all is in the cost savings realised by going green. Beginning immediately, we can start making our existing data centres a showcase for both sound environmental practices and intelligent business strategies.

Strategies For Developing an Efficient Data centre
EMC has identified several key strategies that can be implemented to create a more energy-efficient IT infrastructure, and all of them can be enacted with existing technology. Together, they create significant improvements in utilisation, efficiency, and energy consumption.

Considering that energy efficiency and good environmental stewardship are becoming fundamental to business in the 21st century, the implementation of these strategies will not only yield significant financial benefits, but also a considerable intangible return in the form of brand positioning in the market.

1. Virtualisation
The first key strategy, virtualisation, allows one physical machine to run multiple virtual machines. Instead of operating many servers below capacity, data centres can consolidate them through virtualisation and put all the operations on just a few computers. The average server sits idle 85 percent of the time. EMC's VMWare virtualisation software is a powerful tool to address this underutilisation. Virtualising servers and consolidating them on fewer physical machines improves utilisation of server hardware ten times or better. Fewer physical machines require not only less power to run, but also less power to cool the hardware, yielding savings both in hardware and operational costs.

2. Consolidation and Tiering
Consolidation and virtualisation share a similar common principle: both simplify administration while increasing flexibility and responsiveness to new requirements. With consolidation, users notice an immediate savings in energy, space, and costs. The consolidation of several smaller storage systems into fewer, larger systems increases capacity while reducing both complexity and the amount of energy consumed.

Server virtualisation goes hand in hand with consolidation because virtualisation of servers enables moving from direct attached storage to highly available networked storage. While direct attached storage averages only a 20 to 40 percent utilisation rate, networked storage has a utilisation rate of 60 to 80 percent. That means less capacity for storage is needed, and it's more easily and efficiently managed.

Consolidation also facilitates tiering, the practice of assigning mission-critical data to high-speed and low-capacity drives. Less critical information is assigned to low-speed, higher-capacity drives, which spin more slowly and therefore use less energy.

3. Optimisation
With storage optimisation, resources can be deployed to efficiently achieve the results required— without providing more than is needed. This creates a configuration that allows the flexibility to "pay as you grow" in areas of capacity, performance, connectivity, and functionality.

4. Leveraging Software
Today, a large number of storage software applications allow users to manage the placement of data, move it from one tier to another, minimise or prune full copies, make use of incremental copies, and eliminate redundant data.

Just as with server virtualisation, these software products were not necessarily developed for energy efficiency, but learning to leverage their capabilities allows users to dramatically reduce energy usage. Two types—file virtualisation software and data de-duplication software—can provide huge energy savings.

Turning Your Plan into Action
Before long, energy efficiency and good environmental stewardship will become standard business procedure. Those who begin using sound environmental practices now will not only be the first to reap the financial benefits, but also will enjoy significant returns in brand positioning in the market.

Regardless of whether it's done for economic reasons or environmental ones, going green is an effective way to reduce costs, increase energy capacity, and streamline management. Just as with any change, however, this profitable journey doesn't begin without due diligence.
Those who are considering the move to a green data centre will have to complete an energy audit of each facility to identify major areas of inefficiency, including platform placement, power consumption, and cooling density requirement studies. It's also important to think about making organisational and policy changes to minimise the carbon footprint of commuting employees and contractors—including offering incentives to encourage environmentally conscious commuting arrangements.

Implementation of virtualisation and consolidation, both for server and storage configurations, along with automated power management and control systems to optimise energy efficiency, will play an important role in the process of going green.

Along the way, you'll want to research and consider alternative power sources and cooling technologies. Going green represents a significant commitment to the environment, but it also is a crucial step to improving the cost-effectiveness of your company in general and your data centre in particular. It's an ongoing journey rather than a one-time fix, and as you continually look for opportunities to reduce your company's footprint, you'll find that you're saving more than just the environment—you're saving time and money as well.

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