The Macro Approach to a Greener Data Center

Arthur Cole
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Data Back Up, Recovery and Erasure: A Guide for Corporate IT

The drive for the green data center has been with us for some time, but while few people can quantify exactly what “green” is, most agree that today’s enterprise falls way short.

While it’s true that energy consumption is down across the board, thanks mainly to virtualization and the advent of low-power solutions like Flash storage, the fact remains that on average the majority of energy consumption in the data center is going toward support functions like power and cooling, not to actual data infrastructure.

In their defense, most data center operators say they are greening their plants and moving workloads to the cloud as quickly as they can, but this has to be done carefully to avoid disrupting service. Beyond that, there is not much a single enterprise can do. According to a recent survey of European operators by The Green Grid, 43 percent say they have no energy efficiency objectives going forward, while only a third say they can effectively quantify the environmental impact of their facilities.

So it would seem that driving energy efficiency in the data center is as difficult as driving it in the home: People think their own contribution may save a little money but is meaningless to the bigger picture. This is why many green advocates are starting to focus on more industry-wide strategies, in the hopes that changing the way in which technologies are designed and implemented will produce a green effect without really trying.

When it comes to building new facilities, at least, green technologies are emerging as a primary design element. According to Transparency Market Research, the global green data center market is on pace to expand nearly ten-fold over the next seven years, from $25.8 billion in 2014 to more than $221 billion in 2022. To be sure, this is driven mainly by financial considerations, although a little government nudging doesn’t hurt either. And since the cloud industry makes its money selling IT services, there is now a clear competitive advantage to lowering operating costs, and even marginal gains in efficiency can have a big impact when scaled to extreme levels.

The IT channel is also emerging as a key ally in greening up the data center. Intel recently unveiled the Intel Datacenter Manager stack and 3D Crosspoint solution, which the company is looking to deploy through closer coordination with VARs and other channel providers. Jeff Klaus, Intel’s GM for data center solutions, told Channelnomics recently that adoption of more efficient hardware and software is up 30 percent in the past few years, which ought to prick the ears of channel providers who live and die by market share. And since money talks when making a sale, who would want to pass up a chance to provide a 30 percent cost reduction to their clients simply by improving rack densities or deploying a simple software solution that tracks down and decommissions underutilized server instances?

The largest players in the data center industry, of course, don’t bother much with the channel. Google, Amazon, Facebook and other hyperscalers spec their own hardware from ODMs and use it to support homegrown architectures. But even here there are opportunities to drive greater efficiency through standardization. This is why Google’s recent decision to support Facebook’s Open Compute Project is such a big deal, says’s Adam Toobin. By uniting on standardized server, storage and networking configurations, the cloud giants can not only drive efficiency in their own facilities, but then project those gains across the wider industry through its open source reference designs. Google’s rack design, for instance, distributes energy at 48 volts, rather than the 12 volts of the existing OCP solution, which saves about 30 percent of the energy that is lost in the conversion process.

While it would be nice if a highly energy-efficient data center industry were to emerge overnight with little or no effort on the part of operators, the truth is that even with industry-wide solutions at the ready, the enterprise will have to take a proactive stance on its energy consumption.

The good news is that the incentives for a greener data center are already in place. All that is needed is the will and the guidance to make it happen.

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.

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