Still Plenty of Green in the Data Center

by Arthur Cole, IT Business Edge

For many data centers, going green meant going virtual -- that is, the vast majority of power savings over the past two or three years has been the by-product of server consolidation.

For many data centers, going green meant going virtual -- that is, the vast majority of power savings over the past two or three years was the by-product of server consolidation.

While there's nothing wrong with that, it does lead to something of a conundrum as virtualization reaches its practical limits: how to maintain energy efficiency gains once your consolidation ratios start to encroach upon service level and reliability requirements?

The good news is that there are still plenty of areas in the data center that are ripe for significant energy-use makeovers. The bad news is that many of the most effective measures require a substantial up-front commitment, both in terms of capital costs and systems architecture.

One of the most promising is good old-fashioned power-usage management. The latest systems automation platforms not only relieve IT staff from many of the repetitive functions of data center management, but provide real-time systems analysis to constantly evaluate the most energy-efficient manner to distribute workloads.

"To have a viable power management system, you have to take a holistic view of the data center rather than focus on one specific part of the system," says Clemens Pfeiffer, chief technology officer at energy management firm Power Assure. "Otherwise you will make the wrong decisions.

"While most of the savings come from shutting down idle servers or putting them to sleep, there are other components that need to be factored in," he adds. "First, servers need to be taken out of allocation for each individual application. Load balancing may need to be adjusted; routing may need to be changed; site-to-site load shifting might be required; and cooling might need to be adjusted as servers are turned on or off."

Naturally, this kind of automation does not lend itself to commodity software products. Expect to form a very tight relationship with power management vendors like EnerNOC, which takes a customized approach to how energy is parceled out in specific data centers.

"IT and facility teams often start by looking at their peak load on the grid, since the highest load is a critical factor in monthly electricity bills and carbon footprints," says Tim Healy, chairman and CEO of EnerNOC. "(We) work with hundreds of data centers to use back-up generation during times of peak demand to alleviate stress on the grid, which has many positive benefits for the data center, the grid and the environment.

"The move to system-wide energy management is not dissimilar to the call for more holistic ERP deployments, which blindsided many IT departments. Executives saw a need for an enterprise-wide application, but the full ramifications for IT were not clear up front. With economic recovery on the horizon, now is a great time for IT leaders to create a bold vision for energy management across the enterprise and get ahead of the next big wave in the evolution of IT responsibility."

Next page: New Ties Between Hardware and Software Platforms

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This article was originally published on May 10, 2010
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