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The Green Data Center Movement - Improving Energy Efficiency 

Changing to the Green Data Center
The demand for better performance and high reliability at lower costs within the data center is the ultimate goal for any organization. Technological advancements are continuously being introduced in order to meet these demands—by delivering faster servers, lower cost storage and more flexible networking equipment. Although these advancements have resulted in greater performance, it has come with a significant cost.

The operational costs associated with these technologies—high-density blade servers in particular—are reaching astronomical levels, with power and cooling being the primary suspects. Currently, power and cooling costs represent up to 44 percent of a data center’s total cost of ownership; and recent estimates indicate the three-year cost of powering and cooling servers is approximately one-and-a-half times the cost of purchasing server hardware. Extending these projections to 2012 show the multiplier increasing to 22 times the cost of hardware under the worst-case scenarios and to almost three times in the best-case scenarios.

Now, many companies are taking on the challenge of fostering a “green data center” in order to address these environmental pressures placed on the Earth’s natural and limited resources. Ken Brill, founder and executive director of The Uptime Institute Inc., forecasts the beginnings of a potential crisis, “The benefits of [Moore’s Law] are eroding as the costs of data centers rise dramatically. Increasing demand for power is the culprit, driven by both higher power densities and strong growth in the number of servers in use.” A variety of other leading industry analysts have similar predictions with regards to the data center power crisis:

  • In a recent Aperture Research Institute™ survey of 100 data center operations, “40 percent reported running out of space, power and cooling capacity without sufficient notice.” (Source: Aperture Research Institute™)
  • “By 2011, more than 70 percent of U.S. enterprise data centers will face tangible disruptions related to floor space, energy consumption and/or costs.” (Source: Gartner)
  • “Increased densities make power and cooling the number one factor to ensuring satisfactory data center operations.” (Source: IDC)
  • “Over the next five years, power failures and limits on power availability will halt data center operations at more than 90 percent of all companies.” (Source: AFCOM)
  • “Power management and cooling have emerged as a bottleneck and critical element in data center operations and planning.” (Source: Forrester Research)

Green Data Center Initiatives
With such exorbitant costs on the rise, it is quite apparent that substantial improvements in data center energy efficiency and productivity must be made worldwide. Having the capability to support both current and future needs for computation with reasonable use of the planet’s resource is now an imperative that can no longer be ignored. As such, many organizations are currently in the process of embracing the “Green Data Center” movement to enable cost reductions, increase operational efficiency and ultimately optimize utilization of data center resources.

Corporations, utilities and governments worldwide are beginning to develop measures to address not only the sky-high energy bills, but new and expanding regulations for the disposal of IT equipment and the growing concern over global warming as well. The EPA has made green data center recommendations with the proposal of incorporating ENERGY STAR labels for servers to measure energy efficiency and allow for fair competition. A research study by Digital Reality Trust reported that 60 percent of companies expect green data center strategies to be a part of future capital spending. A new European Union directive has been established to reduce energy usage by 20 percent by 2020. The creation of a new non-profit consortium of information technology organizations and professionals—The Green Grid—has been established to create a set of standardized performance measurements and a comprehensive technology roadmap to maximize energy efficiency. In addition, The Green Grid hopes to create shared definitions and benchmarks to enable real-time measurement, monitoring and control of data center efficiency; assess new and alternate data center technologies and develop baseline “state-of-the-industry” documentation that will incorporate a knowledge repository for all organizations to leverage.

It’s Easy Being Green in the Data Center
Evolving to a green data center and optimizing efficiency can be considered a complex endeavor. However, as the green initiatives are underway, many simple steps can be taken to help improve productivity and energy efficiency to progress into a green data center. By following data center best practices and taking a holistic perspective to manage operations, this process can occur in a step-wise manner with measurable benefits realized along the way. Recommendations include:

  • Eliminate “Ghost” Servers
    The first step to a green data center is removing unused equipment from the facility. Many of today’s data centers contain approximately 8 to 10 percent of servers that have no identifiable function. Technically considered dead with regards to serving the organization, these “ghost” servers can still haunt you by consuming IT resources. By implementing a formal decommissioning process to eliminate these “ghost” servers, an immediate cost savings can be realized. Estimates currently indicate that by removing just one physical server from service can save $560 annually in electricity costs, assuming 8 cents per kilowatt-hour cost.

  • Improve Resource Utilization
    A green data center can also be realized through the direct optimization of data center resources. Organizations must manage the data center infrastructure according to the specific power and cooling profiles required. At the time of a facility design or build out, organizations typically pre-determine specific operating guidelines for racks in order to properly design the power and cooling infrastructure. Currently, many organizations lack quality information sources on power consumption and heat output, which causes operations to run well below the designed levels effectively underutilizing these critical resources.

  • Bridge the Gap between IT and Facilities
    How can better communication within the company lead to a green data center? In many organizations, the IT and Data Center Facilities groups continue to operate as two separate and distinct organizations with little communication and interaction. As stated by the EPA in their Report to Congress, in many data centers those responsible for purchasing and operating IT equipment are not the same as those responsible for the power and cooling infrastructure—leading to split incentives. Thus, those most capable of controlling the use of energy have very little incentive to do so. A single business model where both IT and Facilities work together and let the economics drive the solutions as well as implementing chargeback for power will be critical to harness the power and cooling resources within the data center. Only through a tightly integrated group that combines both IT and Facilities, can an organization fill in the necessary gaps and improve the overall business process to understand metrics to move to a greener path.

  • Implement Standardized Performance Measurements
    Implementing standardized performance measurements and incorporating processes to monitor the data center from a holistic perspective will also help organization become more “eco-computing” conscious. By assessing and reporting on the energy performance—including power distribution and power cooling—as well as benchmarking will help data center managers better understand the relationships between power distribution and consumption. In energy efficiency management, measurement goes far beyond just calculating the ratios, but truly understanding what is behind the ratios. Better analysis, planning and execution of a green data center can only occur when the underlying relationships are understood and the data center is managed from a holistic perspective. Organizations must not only determine where they stand with regards to standardized performance metrics, but also drill further down into the reasons behind the metrics—including how to best optimize the power and cooling infrastructure.

  • Evaluate Investment Alternatives to Upgrade to a Green Data Center
    Many data centers in operation today were built prior to 2002 and did not include design specifications to support high-density operations or to deliver power and cooling to racks operating at over 2 KW. By assessing the needs of the organization, evaluating design alternatives to dramatically reduce power requirements within the infrastructure and applying innovative technologies, significant computing power per kilowatt can be recognized. Just by replacing legacy equipment with newer, energy efficient models, the overall power and cooling requirements within a data center can be considerably reduced as well as freeing up valuable floor space. In addition, leveraging virtualization—which enables multiple application workloads and eliminates the need of dedicating individual workloads to a single server—can reduce heat and energy costs as well as improve operations by managing resources from a single point of control.

Following a greener path has become much more than an altruistic endeavor. Organizations are focusing on developing green data centers in order to reduce the exorbitant power and cooling costs as well as improve operational efficiency. It is quite apparent that the need to construct and operate green buildings will be more and more important—for shareholder value and for the environment. New and emerging tactics and technologies to develop solutions that address today's critical business needs and environmental requirements will deliver economic benefits in an environmentally sound manner, while addressing power and cooling issues in the data center. Decision support systems can help to create the green data center by allowing data center managers manage the physical infrastructure from a holistic perspective and in an integrated process.

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