Even with energy prices falling in recent weeks, data center energy consumption is still on the rise and is expected to double over the next three years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That makes using more energy efficient data center equipment more important than ever, particularly as the economy slows and margins get squeezed.
Contributing to the steady rise in energy could be a lack of information. According to a recently published CDW Corp. report titled "Energy Efficient Information Technology," 94 percent of IT executives with purchasing responsibility said they cared about energy efficiency but had no idea how much energy their IT operations used, even though they realized that that knowledge is critical to energy reduction efforts.
The report also found that energy efficiency quickly falls down the priority list when purchasing decisions are made, as only a third of the IT execs surveyed said that energy efficiency is a very important consideration when purchasing new equipment. In addition, the report stated that when IT managers do buy energy efficient equipment, most do not fully utilize the embedded power management tools, leaving significant savings on the table.
"While energy efficiency has become a 'motherhood' value in IT, there is often much uncertainty about what to do, primarily because good information is severely lacking," said CDW vice president Mark Gambill.
He said the first step in reducing energy consumption is to know what your organization is spending, because "when organizations have access to information about their energy use and manage energy consumption, substantial energy savings are possible."
What do IT execs need from vendors to become more eco-friendly? According to Gambill, many say they need more information and tools to improve energy efficiency. In other words, they need easier identification of energy-efficient equipment options, an objective assessment and breakdown of power and energy use within IT, and a clear set of industry standards for what constitutes energy-efficient.
Knowledge Is Power
According to Dick Sullivan, EMC's (NYSE: EMC) director of enterprise solutions marketing, the primary purpose of IT is to serve organizations' business objectives. "As a result, there are many factors to consider in the selection of any element of the IT value chain and energy consumption has not typically been a consideration, even though it is clear that it must be," he said.
Sullivan said energy costs have become a much higher percentage of overall TCO not just for servers, but for every IT element. So purchase price, functionality, performance, energy and ultimate cost of disposal should all be considerations in IT purchases. And all of these elements must be factored into an overall IT systems approach, he said.
Geoff Noer, senior director of product marketing and management at Rackable Systems (NASDAQ: RACK), said higher energy efficiency is the logical choice for storage buyers, as the power savings over a typical three-year deployment will likely substantially outweigh additional acquisition costs, if any.
"Many of our customers scrutinize every watt of difference between competing systems because they can easily add up to millions of dollars of power cost in large-scale deployments," said Noer.
Eco-Friendly Data Centers
David James, Fujitsu Computer Products of America's vice president of advanced engineering, said decisions like managing data center growth, coping with additional equipment and determining where new data centers should be located are becoming increasingly focused on the availability of power, equipment with reduced energy requirements, and smaller floor space footprints.
Companies are building new data centers in remote locations, often away from their main center of operations, to ensure a reliable source of lower-cost electricity, meet demands for less expensive space, and improve disaster recovery operations.
"Locating data centers close to power generation facilities will reduce transmission costs," agreed Kris Domich, principal consultant for data center and storage solutions at Dimension Data Americas. "Within the data center, implementing virtualization to reduce server sprawl will also help tremendously."
Most servers, said Domich, use about the same amount of power running at 5 percent as they do running at 40 percent, and most servers are running closer to 5 percent. He said consolidating these systems can result in far fewer overall servers, which means the amount of CPU cycles per kilowatt of energy consumed will be much higher.
"As cooling systems tend to account for nearly half of the power used by a data center, I recommend the implementation of adaptive cooling technologies," said Domich. "This type of cooling reacts proportionately to the amount of load at the rack level; thus, it saves energy by only providing as much or as little cooling as required."
Another solution, according to Bruce Master, IBM's (NYSE: IBM) senior program manager of worldwide tape storage systems marketing for the LTO program, is to implement tape as part of a tiered strategy to address storage needs.
"Blending of tape and disk allows users to address their performance and archiving requirements in a very eco-friendly manner, conserving electricity and even reducing the footprint/square footage required for storage systems in the data center," said Master.
Gal Naor, CEO of Storwize, recommends his company's real-time data compression because it reduces hardware and power consumption, floor space requirements and management resources. "For disaster recovery to a second location, with real-time data compression, the amount of data being replicated is significantly less, requiring less bandwidth and takes less time to transmit," he said.