The data center has undoubtedly become much greener than it was even a decade ago. This was largely the result of fortunate circumstances: Scrutiny of IT industry power consumption habits came just as virtualization made it easier to support larger workloads with less infrastructure.
But like all initiatives, the greening of the data center must run its course, leaving one question. Has the real progress toward energy efficiency already been made, leaving only incremental gains going forward, or are new technologies waiting in the wings capable of producing equal or better improvement as we’ve seen in the past?
Looking at the numbers, it seems that green IT is only getting started. According to a new report from WinterGreen Research, the market for green enterprise solutions is approaching $70 billion, more than double that of 2009. And it isn’t necessarily new forms of data hardware like virtualization and Flash storage driving the change either, but improvements to tried-and-true platforms like the mainframe. The IBM zEnterprise 196 mainframe, for instance, is 60 percent faster than previous generations, meaning it pushes data through much quicker and uses less energy to process workloads. Also, top platforms like the new HP Integrity servers and EMC Ionix storage system are placing energy efficiency as a core attribute rather than a simple value-add.
And the fact remains that while the headlines may be fading, the vast majority of data centers still have quite a bit of energy-sipping to do. According to a recent report from Future Resource Engineering, 40 of the top data sites around the world can still realize a collective reduction of about 24 million kWh, representing a savings of about $3.5 million in energy costs. And with many leading cloud providers having launched initiatives into all-renewable sources like wind and hydro, we could very well see the bulk of headlines next year touting how far the industry has come in supporting sustainable energy policies.
The fly in the ointment, however, continues to be the relentless march of data loads. No matter how efficient the industry becomes, its overall consumption will likely rise due to Big Data, the Internet of Things and other high-volume initiatives. Even as the cloud emerges as the greener solution due to its embrace of pay-per-use provisioning, virtualization, automation and multi-tenancy, the fact that these giant centers will draw significant power from the local grid could very well be lost on the national consciousness. This even as consumers, including environmental researchers and activists, utilize those advanced data services to model trends and craft their messaging strategies.
As expected, advanced software will enable a high degree of coordination between the data load, available resources and power capabilities. The Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCM) market has been pegged as one of the key growth areas for the remainder of the decade. As Intel found out in a recent survey, about 40 percent of organizations are still using manual processes to monitor their data environment, which is a recipe for higher operating costs as data and application environments become more complex. Intel itself found that about 13 percent of its engineering compute environment was not running any workloads, so even companies that are highly aware of DCM and its value to the bottom line are still working through implementation issues.
A truly green data center will continue to be a moving target in 2016, which is more a statement of the fuzziness of the word “green” than the effort that the industry has made in lowering the power bill. Ultimately, however, success in becoming green will come down to raw numbers – as in, the number of digits on the check sent to the power company each month.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.