EXPERT ADVICE

Green IT: Behind the Buzzwords

Conserving energy, reducing floor space and managing utility costs are becoming major priorities for IT organizations. As the number of servers continues to grow and demand for storage capacity increases, companies are faced with the challenge of powering and cooling these systems while controlling their energy consumption and complying with environmental regulations.

Aberdeen surveyed more than 175 organizations in a recent study, and results provide evidence that the best performing IT organizations experience lower operating costs, improved application and data availability, and an enhanced corporate image as a result of implementing a green initiative. These organizations have been able to decrease their costs for data center utilities and floor space while also decreasing storage systems power consumption and cooling requirements.

They have achieved these reductions, in part, by conducting formal energy audits as a way to measure data center efficiency, implementing a tiered storage architecture to maximize the utilization of their storage infrastructure, instituting a corporate data and records retention policy, and by gaining knowledge about the energy efficiency and performance trade-offs of various storage media.

Business Context

Conservation of natural resources is not a new idea; environmentalists have warned about the need to be environmentally aware since the 1960s, and many individuals implemented recycling as a result. Concerns about energy supplies and consumption, global warming and climate change have brought new public awareness to the industry in helping to solve these issues.

It might come as no surprise that companies list the rising cost of energy and the cost of their storage infrastructure as top pressures, but does a response to these pressures constitute a green initiative? Most IT organizations are tasked with lowering costs and increasing the overall efficiency of their infrastructure, and these goals are consistent with those of a green strategy. Of course, some companies do consciously implement green initiatives, which include specific cost and efficiency, but the fact is that whether it is called a “green initiative” or not, the effect on the data center costs and operations should be the same.

Companies may also respond to the market pressure to be identified as being environmentally conscious, which was indicated by a third of the companies in our survey. Note that regulatory compliance and restrictions on power consumption were identified as the two lowest pressures. These results may reflect the geographic distribution of the respondents, as the majority of companies are based in North America, where consumption guidelines or regulatory usage limits have not yet been formally established as they have been in Europe.

Effective Strategies

Replacing or upgrading infrastructure components is a leading strategy of the best performing companies for increasing the efficiency of the data center. Older components are far more likely to use more power and require more cooling than newer components because manufacturers are designing components with energy efficiency in mind. Storage arrays, for example, can achieve higher capacity without adding more disks, because the capacity of individual disks has increased substantially. It’s a storage industry axiom that fewer spinning disks mean lowered power consumption and cooling requirements.

Consolidating the data center can have a dramatic impact on energy consumption. Consolidation takes many forms, including reducing data center floor space, server or storage virtualization, and increasing the density of computing power in less space — but all of these strategies have the same net effect: They reduce power consumption and reduce cooling requirements.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are considering metrics proposed by environmentally oriented organizations such as The Green Grid, which has devised several formulas to measure data center efficiency which many companies are using in lieu of government guidelines.

Top-performing companies not only conducted formal energy audits of their infrastructure, but some of them used The Green Grid guidelines, which provide a common scorecard for companies to gauge progress internally and within the industry. The parameters to be evaluated include the following:

  • Corporate data management and retention policies. Having this kind of policy in place enables companies to manage what kind of data gets stored, where it gets stored and perhaps most importantly how long it is retained. Removing data with an expired retention time allows IT to reallocate storage for other uses, which leads to a more efficient storage infrastructure.
  • Establishing a formal policy for data center energy efficiency. A documented energy policy establishes goals for power consumption, cooling capacity, and even data center floor space. These goals allow the organization to measure its progress toward a more energy efficient infrastructure.
  • Knowledge management. Increasing the overall operational efficiency of the infrastructure requires an understanding of the efficiency of the components that comprise it. Since no two components have the same rating, it’s equally important to understand the trade-offs between components. For example, two storage arrays might differ substantially in their energy consumption based solely on the number of disks inside the array.
  • Efficient use of storage capacity. This is another way to increase the contribution storage systems make to the overall efficiency of the data center. Classification of data, the understanding of data types, and the amount of time data needs to be stored in the infrastructure are all important to improving the overall efficiency of the storage infrastructure.
  • Use of a tiered storage architecture. Companies often add storage capacity in hopes of keeping up with increasing demands for storage resources which from an energy efficiency perspective only leads to increased power consumption and a requirement for additional cooling. One solution to this situation is to use a tiered storage architecture in which data is stored on the appropriate storage system according to application use and retrieval speed.
  • Performance management. Top-performing companies continuously measure the performance of their storage infrastructure against metrics to gauge the efficiency of their infrastructure and highlight areas that might require corrective action. One such measure is storage availability; an increase in availability indicates that the storage infrastructure is responding well to demands placed upon it.

Key Takeaways

For companies wishing to ramp up their green initiatives, the following actions will help spur the necessary performance improvements:

  • Evaluate infrastructure for energy efficiency.
  • Establish a formal energy policy.
  • Replace or upgrade components.
  • Implement a virtual infrastructure to reduce power and cooling costs.

Companies who have already taken the above steps may want to consider the following actions to achieve further improvements:

  • Engage consultants trained in energy efficiency.
  • Increase the use of energy efficient technologies.
  • Consider consolidating data centers.

Green IT is rapidly becoming one of 2008’s industry buzzwords. Aberdeen’s research shows that a majority of responding companies are either actively engaged in a green strategy, or are seriously interested an evaluating an energy initiative.

Whether or not it is actually called a “green initiative,” it still falls to the IT organization to reduce or at least control energy costs and to increase the operational efficiency of the infrastructure.

Click here to read the full benchmark report.


Jeffrey Hill is a senior research analyst in the data management and storage area at Aberdeen Group.


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