Energy Efficiency Requires More than Just Lip Service

Arthur Cole

Quick quiz: How important are energy costs to your organization's bottom line? And how many of you know how consumption will be affected by planned upgrades?

The reason I ask is that new research is showing a pretty wide gap between IT's acceptance of energy use as a key planning factor and concrete steps to even assess the impact that upcoming rollouts will have on consumption. New data from Kelton Research reports that more than a quarter of enterprises have moved energy consumption into the top three in terms of annual operating expenses, even though only half say they calculate those costs into their annual IT budget.

This kind of disconnect can only further inhibit the IT industry's ability to establish the kind of innovative and effective architecture needed for future data environments. After all, if you don't know or don't care how much it will cost to run your IT infrastructure, how can you possibly be sure you'll be able to maintain it as data loads increase?

Still another danger with this kind of thinking is that if the data center operators do not get out in front of the green movement and begin to define their green status, others will do it for them. A case in point is a recent report issued by Greenpeace arguing that despite housing some of the greenest technologies on Earth, massive new data centers being built by Microsoft, Facebook and others will increase carbon emissions because they are located in warmer southern states that rely largely on coal for electricity production.

The issue of location is likely to step to the forefront as the industry moves toward these gigantic cloud-ready facilities. Groups like Cervalis specialize in generic data center infrastructure that it leases out to large financial institutions. Its most recent building is located in Totowa, N.J., which is close enough to Wall Street to enable quick and reliable data-transmission services, but may not be the optimal location based on the ever-shifting standards of data center "greenness." I can't say for sure whether Cervalis is prepared to give an accurate accounting of its energy costs, but if the IT industry in general is nearing the energy consumption of the airlines industry, it would be wise to keep some numbers handy should public scrutiny start to ratchet up.

Some of that pressure might be alleviated through innovative energy-exchange programs that could shift data center consumption away from carbon-emitting sources. A company called Datapipe, also in New Jersey, recently signed on for renewable-energy certificates from Constellation NewEnergy, a Baltimore-based energy broker. The credits ensure that 100 percent of Datapipe's energy comes from green sources like wind and hydropower. With an annual draw of 8.3 million kWh, that translates into a carbon reduction of more than 8 million pounds. It would be hard even for Greenpeace to complain about numbers like that.

No matter what we do, there will always be critics who complain that the IT industry is not green enough. But that's no excuse for not having a clear idea of your energy consumption, both as it is now and how it would be affected by new technologies.

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Apr 8, 2010 3:02 PM Marcel den Hartog Marcel den Hartog  says:

I already spoke about the need for "green-IT" 4 years ago at the Gartner IT Expo in Cannes. Nobody seemed to understand why. As the writer states very rightly, even today, IT people are still not "smart" about green IT. Many architects still make decisions based on hypes and architectural beauty (complexity).

Virtualization and Cloud are presented as silver bullets while everybody with a bit of common sense knows that these technologies will exist together with existing complex IT infrastructures for a long time. In IT, nothing ever goes away.

Many large companies still run the majority of their distributed servers at 15% CPU utilization while the same companies have IBM Mainframes that run at 95% utilization, processing a multitude of the workload. And even though a lot of that distributed workload could run on an energy efficient IBM zSeries Mainframe, IT architects will fight to prevent just that.

We still put personal preferences and an almost mythical "distributed systems are so cheap" before business sense and energy efficiency of IT.

CA recently did a survey (http://www.ca.com/gb/content/campaign.aspx?cid=208005) that showed that many fortune 500 companies run > 60% of their workload on a Mainframe and spend less than 25% of their budget doing so. And energy costs are a big part of this difference.

It needs re-thinking. But since many of the largest companies already have "big iron" that can run a lot of the workload that currently runs on high-ebergy consuming systems, there is no reason why we should not re-think past decisions.


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