A Recession to Be Thankful For

Wayne Rash

I know you're probably not thankful for the current year-long financial catastrophe the government likes to call a 'recession.' Perhaps you're out of work, perhaps your house has dropped 50 percent in value (not that your taxes have gone down as a result), and perhaps things are tough at work because you have to do a lot more with a lot less.

But doing more with less can also be a blessing. For years the IT world has been an energy- and resource-hungry monster that simply grew. Companies would add servers and infrastructure, and simply buy more power, add more cooling and build out more real estate. Inside the data centers there was little or no effort to look at efficient choices. Instead, it was all about expanding with minimal effort and minimal capital expense, and operational expense be damned.

Now that's changing. Forced to do more, but to do it with smaller budgets, IT managers are finally starting to realize that an average server utilization level of around 10 percent isn't a good thing. They're starting to realize that having servers running back there in the data center with nothing to do is simply a waste of resources. And IT managers are figuring out that a little bump in capital can mean a huge savings in operational costs, resulting in a significant net savings in the data center.

The need to be more efficient is a major reason for the sudden growth in virtualization, for example. By optimizing the use of their servers, IT managers are finding that they can downsize their data centers, while also improving their management load. While this does mean that companies may have to spend money on licenses for virtualization, the savings from reducing the number of physical servers they have to run -- and the resulting savings in power and cooling -- more than make up the difference.

This is also why companies are embracing some aspects of computing in the cloud. While there are still significant questions about security in the cloud, the use of the cloud for archiving can dramatically lower costs and ease management burdens, while also ensuring that mission-critical data is protected from a range of disasters-natural or manmade-that might otherwise befall them.

Because cloud computing can be substantially less expensive than doing the same thing yourself, companies that provide this service are doing very well, as long as they protect the information entrusted to their care.

But there's another benefit that's usually not mentioned. Doing more with less is also the socially responsible thing to do. If you take a look at the steps required to adopt a virtualized environment, you'll see that they're very similar to what is required to reduce your energy consumption, your carbon footprint and your consumption of resources. If you have to upgrade your servers to machines optimized for virtualization, you're going to need far fewer servers. You're also going to end up with servers that are newer and thus more energy efficient. Because of this, your data center will be smaller, it'll require less cooling and less power, and that will reduce your energy needs as well.

And if you move some of your operations to the cloud, then you've reduced your data center needs even more, and moved the load to a provider that can take advantages of scale, make better utilization of their servers, and reduce your effective energy consumption even more.

In short, because of the recession business is winning in two ways. First, data centers are becoming more efficient and, second, this greater efficiency is helping both the company's bottom line and environmental responsibility at the same time. Recession or not, it's hard to fault a win-win like that.

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