Not all ‘green’ IT solutions or messages are created equal. Regardless of political views, the reality is that for business and IT sustainability, a focus on ecological issues — and more importantly, their economic aspects — cannot be ignored.
There are business benefits to using the most energy-efficient IT solutions to meet different data and application requirements. However, vendors are busy promoting ‘green’ stories and solutions that often miss where IT organization challenges and mandates exist. This article examines the growing gap between green messaging, or ‘Green Wash,’ and how to close the gap and enable IT organization issues to be addressed today in a manner that sustains business growth in an economic and ecologically friendly manner.
The advent of cheaper volume compute power has brought with it a tremendous growth in data storage. Until recently, energy efficiency of servers, networks, software and storage has been of little concern to IT organizations. This is changing as the price of electricity is steadily increasing and demand is outpacing the supply of electricity generation and transmission (G&T) capabilities on a local and global basis. As application server utilization and energy efficiency for powering and cooling these IT resources improve, the focus will expand to include data storage and networking equipment.
A reliable supply of electricity is becoming more difficult to guarantee due to finite G&T capacity and rising fuel costs. Added to this is increasing demand as a result of proliferating data footprints, more and denser servers, storage and networks, along with limited floor space, backup power and cooling capacity.
As IT data centers address power, cooling, floor space and Environmental Health and Safety-EHS (PCFE) challenges with improved energy efficiency and effectiveness, benefits that will be realized include: helping the environment, reducing PCFE costs and affects, and enabling sustained application growth to support evolving business information needs.
Part of the Problem
The combination of growing demand for electricity by data centers, density of power usage per square foot, rising energy costs, strained electricity G&T infrastructure and environmental awareness prompted the passage of United States public law 109-431 in 2006. Public law 109-431 instructed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to report to Congress on the state of IT data center energy usage in the U.S.
In the August 2007 EPA report to Congress, findings included that IT data centers (termed information factories) consumed about 61 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in 2006 at an approximate cost of about $4.5 billion dollars. The report also said that IT data centers, on average, consume 15-25 times (or more) energy per square foot than a typical office building. Without changes in electricity consumption and improved efficiency, the EPA is estimating that IT data center power consumption will exceed 100 billion kWh by 2011, further stressing an already strained electrical power G&T infrastructure and pressuring energy prices even more.
While there is IT interest in green issues, the StorageIO Group, through research and regular discussions with IT personal, has found the more pressing problems facing most IT data centers (approximately 85-90 percent) are growing bottlenecks and approaching ceilings on available power, cooling and floor space, along with environmentally safe disposal of retired IT equipment.
The Growing Green Gap
There are many aspects to being green (Figure 1) when it comes to IT data centers, including facilities, power, cooling, asset disposal and recycling. The specific issues vary by organization size, location, visibility and application focus, among other factors.
Figure 1: IT Data Center Ecological and Economic Sustainment Areas of Interest
The growing green gap is, in its simplest terms, one of language and messaging, as shown in Figure 1. While there is a common denominator of green concern among data center issues, there is often a disconnect between needs centered around asset disposal, floor space or cooling, power and energy costs and the need to sustain business growth.
In short, the ‘green’ message preached by vendors and the industry may be lost on customers, who are far more concerned about the other kind of green — their bottom lines. But the two sides have far more in common than is getting across, and therein lies the opportunity: what is good for the environment is also good for the bottom line.
The green gap consequence can be viewed as one of perception. IT organizations are not, in general, placing a high priority on ‘green’ even as they address other issues that have ecological and economic implications. The IT industry’s messaging is not effectively communicating the availability of green solutions to help IT organizations address their issues. By addressing IT issues today that include power, cooling and floor space, along with asset disposal and recycling, the byproducts are economically and ecologically positive. Likewise, the shift in thinking from power avoidance to more efficient use of energy moving forward helps from both an economic and ecological standpoint.
There is parallel here between the oil crisis of the 1970s and the current buzz around green IT and green storage, along with power, cooling and floor space issues. During the oil crisis, there was huge pressure to conserve and avoid energy consumption, and we are seeing similar messaging around power avoidance for storage, including consolidation and powering down servers and storage systems.
Following the initial push for energy conservation in the ’70s was the introduction of more energy-efficient vehicles. Today, with IT resources, there is a focus on more energy-efficient servers and storage, both for active and inactive use or applications, that also incorporate intelligent power management (IPM) and storage that can do more work per watt of energy. The subsequent developments involve adopting best practices, including better data and storage management, archiving, compression, de-duplication and other forms of data footprint reduction along with other techniques to do more with available resources to sustain growth.
Closing the Green Gap
There are real things that can be accomplished today toward achieving a balance of performance, availability, capacity and energy effectiveness to meet particular application and service needs, as shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Action Items and Opportunities to Address PCFE and Green Issues
Page 2: Meeting Economic and Ecological Mandates
Both economic and ecological mandates can be achieved by balancing performance, availability, capacity and energy (PACE) to meet application service levels and physical floor space constraints along with intelligent power management. Energy economics should be considered as much a strategic resource part of IT data centers as are servers, storage, networks, software and personnel.
Avoiding energy usage by turning off devices when not needed is the intuitive approach to reducing energy usage. For example, turning off or enabling intelligent power management for monitors or desktop servers should be as automatic as turning off overhead lights when not needed. On the other hand, turning off larger and mission-critical servers and associated active storage systems can have a negative effect on application availability and performance. Consequently, avoiding power is not typically a binary on or off solution for most data center environments. Instead, selective power down after analysis of application interdependences and business affect or benefit should be pursued.
From a storage standpoint, the major power draw, based on StorageIO research, for commonly deployed storage systems is spinning hard disk drives (HDDs) and their enclosures, which account for on average 66-75 percent, and controllers account for the balance of electrical power consumption. The evolution from power avoidance is to use power and energy more effectively by implanting solutions with IPM that can vary the amount of power consumed to match required levels of application availability and performance.
Another goal to move toward is IT equipment that is able do more work with the same or less energy and cooling than current technologies. Examples include processors that can do more calculations per second per watt of energy as well as consume fewer total watts than their predecessors across different tiers of servers. Another example would be a storage system that can perform more I/O operations per second (IOPS) or transactions per second or move more data (bandwidth) per unit of energy consumed while at the same time drawing less total power than previous solutions, with different tiers of storage devices. For networks, the example would be to move more data (bandwidth) per unit of energy while the total networking switch draws less power than previous examples.
A Call to Action
The IT industry is shifting from the first wave of awareness and green hype to the second wave of delivering and adopting more efficient and effective solutions.
However, as parts of the industry shift toward closing the green gap, stragglers and latecomers will continue to message and play to the first wave themes, resulting in some disconnect for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, a third wave addressing future and emerging technologies will continue to evolve, adding to the confusion of what can be done today compared to what can be done in the future.
Items and tasks that you can take action on today to address PCFE and green issues include the following:
- Do more work while using the same or less amount of power
- Leverage faster processors and controllers that use the same or less power
- Consolidate slower storage or servers to a faster, more energy-efficient solution
- Use faster disk drives with capacity boost that draw less power
- Upgrade to newer, faster, denser, more energy-efficient technologies
- Look beyond capacity utilization and keep response time and availability in mind
- Leverage intelligent and adaptive power management modes where practical
- Manage data both locally and remotely, and gain control and insight before moving problems
- Reduce data footprint to enable higher densities of stored data
Bottom line, without electrical power, IT data centers would come to halt. With rising fuel prices, strained generating and transmission facilities for electrical power, and a growing awareness of environmental issues, coupled with the need to support applications storing and processing more data, the key to economic sustainability for IT data centers is to manage IT resources, including servers, storage, networks and facilities, in the most energy-efficient manner possible. By adopting effective solutions, economic value can be achieved as well as positive ecological results while sustaining business growth.
Greg Schulz is founder and senior analyst of the StorageIO group and author of “Resilient Storage Networks” (Elsevier).