When it comes to lowering energy costs in the data center, there are two ways to go about it: more efficient hardware designs featuring low-power components and more efficient cooling systems, and new software platforms that make better use of available resources.
To date, the software side of the equation has centered largely on virtualization. Improving the utilization rate of servers and storage is one of the surest ways to cut energy bills, even if it does lead to increased networking infrastructure to handle the data flow.
Now it seems that new breeds of management software are coming down the pike with an eye toward improving energy consumption and automating many of the labor-intensive system oversight tasks in the enterprise.
IBM's green management software initiative had a major coming out this week in Orlando, where the company showed off the first fruits of the $1 billion-a-year Project Big Green. Leading the pack was the new version of the IBM Tivoli Monitoring (ITM) software stack aimed at providing a full view of energy use in the data center. The package provides historical trending, current use analysis and forecasting, as well as automation functions for setting use thresholds.
IBM is also tying up with a range of third-party management systems to integrate data center energy management with management of the broader facility infrastructure, governing such elements as air conditioning, power distribution, lighting and security.
Automated control of servers and storage systems are effective when data demands are relatively constant or follow predictable use patterns. Unpredictable environments cause the most trouble, , though, and it's one of the niches that Cassatt has carved out for itself. The new release of the company's Active Response system features demand-based policies for real-time IT infrastructure control. They function primarily by turning servers on and off according to changing data loads. The company claims its system can reduce energy consumption by 50 percent, as opposed to 30 percent for systems that can only idle servers according to set patterns.
Energy-saving functions also are finding their way onto the operating-system level. The new Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 offers "CPU frequency scaling" through Intel's Dynamic Acceleration Technology. The system cuts power to idle cores and boosts the performance of active ones by overclocking them without overheating.
Considering the latest figures on data center power consumption, it's no wonder IT managers are looking for every trick in the book to cut use. Consultants McKinsey & Co. estimate that the worldwide installed server base is due to hit 43 million by 2010, a 16 percent jump, with energy consumption per server set to increase by 9 percent. And that's on top of a 4 percent increase in the cost of energy. In actual dollars, that translates about $1,870 per year per server in heating and cooling costs alone.
Retrofitting a data center to cut energy costs is both time-consuming and expensive. An upgraded energy-management system is probably the best way to initiate a system-wide reduction in power consumption in the short term, while leaving the hardware upgrades to standard replacement cycles.