‘Green’ Is Hot for Storage Managers

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The concept of “green” may be cool, but pressure is heating up as storage and network managers around the world struggle with skyrocketing energy costs. IT departments can expect to spend half of their total budget on energy, according to an EPA draft report on server and data center efficiencies.

One of the top issues for storage managers is to use energy more efficiently and meet environmental challenges while storing more data and retrieving it ever faster, according to Jonathan Storper, attorney and partner at Hanson Bridgett LLP. Evaluating and implementing new technologies that reduce energy use is a way for storage managers to contribute to business growth and the bottom line, and Storper said virtualization, tiered storage, and consolidation of data storage infrastructures are tools for increasing energy efficiency.

In the last five years, companies have moved to consolidate data assets back to the data center and “manufacturers are being driven to come up with clever ways to store more data on a smaller footprint,” said Tom Clark, member of the Storage Networking Industry Association board of directors and principal engineer at Brocade. “Combining technologies like server virtualization and storage virtualization can make significant reductions in energy costs.”

Server virtualization — running multiple instances of an operating system on a single platform — yields greater productivity, supports multiple applications, and reduces the need to purchase additional hardware. storage virtualization can create infrastructures for information lifecycle management (ILM), where tiers of storage create different energy consumption points, reducing carbon footprints.

Implementing virtualization can also pay off on the bottom line. California, Arizona, New York and Vermont now have utility-based rebate programs for non-residential customers who implement virtualization and server consolidation projects, and other states are expected to follow.

Once assets are centralized, best practices such as policy based-data administration and tiered storage can help maximize energy efficiency by migrating data from higher energy usage devices to lower ones, such as SATA, tape, or optical disk.

Incorporating a tiered storage solution combines the potential for energy savings with the ability to meet business requirements of the data center, according to Mike Koclanes, chief strategy officer and senior vice president of sales and marketing at Plasmon. With new compliance and regulatory requirements comes the need to preserve for the long term increasing amounts of data that likely will not change over its preservation life.

“A number of organizations do not have the luxury of adding more data center space,” said Koclanes, “but still need to retain information like patient records, trade information, and client data.”

Archival solutions that incorporate technologies like Plasmon’s UDO optical disk, he said, “offer the opportunity to meet both electronic data discovery requirements and green requirements by putting data that needs to be retained but less frequently accessed on more cost-effective platforms that meet retrieval requirements but require less space, cooling, and power.”

New technologies for file storage are also turning green, with a focus on reducing power requirements along with the total amount of storage required to contain corporate data. “We’ve been power efficient from day one in our architecture, and are now deploying energy-aware storage solutions for consolidating information from Windows, Unix, and Linux devices into one file storage environment,” said Narayan Venkat, vice president of marketing at ONStor.

ONStor clustered NAS solutions are part of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, which sets aggressive new targets for energy-efficient computers and components, and promotes the adoption of energy-efficient computers and power management tools worldwide. ONStor’s technologies, according to Venkat, save enterprises 50 percent on total cost of ownership, and deliver up to 95 percent power savings, 90 percent fewer devices to manage, and 90 percent space savings compared to traditional direct-attached and networked storage environments.

A Global Perspective

With many businesses now global, there is growing attention to worldwide laws and regulations on environmental issues.

Current US policy may lag behind the rest of the world in energy efficiency regulations and incentive programs, but this will change within the next year or two. U.S. federal laws that took effect July 20 apply Energy Star version 4.0 ratings to desktop computers, integrated computer systems, notebook computers, tablet PCs, desktop derived servers and workstations. Midrange and large servers, thin clients/blade PCs, handhelds and PDAs are expected to be covered by January 2009. Congress is expected to take action on an EPA data center energy report this fall, and has mandated that all federal agencies reduce their energy use by 3 percent per year, and 30 percent by 2015.

“There are many different laws that cover environmental factors beyond the cost of energy, from recycling equipment safely to reducing carbon footprints,” said Clark. “All this brings increasing pressure on data centers “to balance the business requirements driving exponential data center growth with cost and availability issues.”

E-waste is another green issue looming on the horizon. Recycling and proper disposal of computers and technological devices containing hazardous materials is critical, and legislators are responding to the challenge with laws that apply to both manufacture and disposal. One example is the EU directive on restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS), which requires the elimination of certain hazardous waste such as lead and mercury in computers and computer accessories sold or distributed within the EU.

“Companies are now setting goals for new procurements with regard to RoHS compliance,” said Koclanes, who said Plasmon’s products conform to RoHS. RoHS takes on more importance for U.S. manufacturers and consumers with a recent extension that imposes a series of requirements on consumer electronics that are imported into the EU or otherwise placed on the EU market. And even companies with no international operations need to be aware of RoHS because of a California regulation that requires compliance with EU RoHS for products sold within the state.

Moving Forward

Server, storage, and networking manufacturers are working together to measure energy efficiency in storage products. Industry organizations such as the Green Grid are advancing energy efficiency in data centers and computing ecosystems with industry-wide recommendations on best practices, metrics, and technologies that will improve overall data center energy efficiency.

“The Green Grid focuses on the entire data center, while the SNIA’s emphasis is on storage networking, including arrays and network components,” said Clark.

Many SNIA member companies are also members of the Green Grid, and SNIA “will be a great venue for developing industry-wide metrics that apply to storage networking,” he said. “The availability of metrics that can be used to select equipment, design storage infrastructure, and keep costs under control will be very beneficial.”

Storper suggests that storage managers keep abreast of green storage issues in the three main areas that laws and regulations are focused:

  1. Energy efficiency for servers and data systems.
  2. Hazardous materials utilized in the production of computers and other technological devices.
  3. Recycling and proper disposal of computers and technological devices containing hazardous materials.

He also recommends that companies and individuals get ahead of the regulatory curve by considering voluntary action plans for energy efficiency, reduction of e-waste, and using less toxic materials in production. “Green law issues are here to stay,” said Storper, “and there is no question that more regulations in this area will affect the storage and networking community.”

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