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The Greening of IT: Oxymoron or Journey to a New Reality

by Hu Yoshida on Apr 15, 2008

This was the title of a panel that was held last week at SNW in Orlando. It was moderated by Ron Milton of Computer World and on the panel was Mark Showers the CIO of Monsanto, Mark O’Gara Vice President of Infrastructure Management at Highmark, Andrew Fanara, team leader of the EPA Energy Star Product Specification Development Group, Chris Wood the CTO for SUN Global Storage Practice and myself.

At the beginning of the session, the question of why I should care about having a “Green” data center was posed to the audience, and the top two responses were;

1.      Reduce costs, improve company profits

2.      Protect the environment

This clearly showed that the majority of attendees clearly believed that this was a journey to a new reality. Andrew Fanara pointed out that this could be motivated by the reality that we are running out of power. The recent trend of relocating data centers to the Columbia River area for lower cost hydroelectric power is causing a shortage of power in that region. Building new energy production facilities will take time, which means we need to conserve what we have today. 

Both Highmark and Monsanto have built new data centers that have LEED certification, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Mark Showers and Mark O’Gara emphasized the value of Green to their IT mission. Both talked about the need to establish a base line measurement in order to know what to address first in terms of power consumption.

Later I had the opportunity to have lunch with Mark O’Gara. Mark is a West Point graduate so he takes a very disciplined approach to addressing the greening of IT. He emphasized the need for measurements and setting targets. When he started out he did an analysis of power consumption based on vendor specifications and came up with a number of 513 KW for his data center infrastructure. When his infrastructure team actually measured the power consumption, the peak draw was 462 KW, about 10% less than the plate KW. It is good news that vendors over spec rather than under spec their products to ensure that facilities’ planning for power is never exceeded. However to get an accurate reading of power consumption it should be measured under peak conditions on the floor.  

The physical measurements showed that the biggest consumers of power were in order: Business Intelligence Servers, SAN Storage, Robotic tape Library, and Virtual tape servers. He also found a lot of systems that were not being used. His first step was to turn off those servers and move to virtual servers. Mark’s initial target was a 10% reduction of power and he was able to achieve a reduction to 418 KW.

At first it may sound counter intuitive that SAN storage is such a high consumer of power since it is open system storage which is usually rack mounted as opposed to large monolithic mainframe storage. However, rack mounted, modular storage is very similar to rack mounted servers when it comes to power and cooling. Since it is modular each drawer of 15 disks has to have its own power step down and two or three fans for cooling. Cool air has to be sucked in from the front and exhausted out the back, creating a ventilation problem on the backside. On a capacity basis monolithic storage may be more power and cooling efficient since they can be configured in frames with a wall of disks in front and a wall of disks in back with a plenum in between which acts as a chimney to draw air in from the bottom and sides and exhaust hot air out the top. So instead of 2 or 3 fans per 15 disk drawer, you may have only six fans for 256 disks in a monolithic storage frame.

Another surprise may be that tape libraries are such large consumers of power. Since tape is not spinning most of the time they should consume much less power than spinning disk – right? Apparently not if they are sitting in a robotic tape library with a lot of mechanical moving parts and tape drives that have to accelerate and decelerate at tremendous speeds. A Virtual Tape Library with de-duplication factor of 25:1 and large capacity disks may draw significantly less power than a robotic tape library for a given amount of capacity.

The greening of IT is a new reality. The lessons learned by thought leaders like Mark Showers and Mark O’Gara is to measure what you have first so that you can identify and prioritize an approach to reducing power and cooling requirements.  

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Comments (3 )

David Guy on 16 Apr 2008 at 8:47 am

I believe that all data centres must adopt “green” practices. Power monitoring, metering, and billing are the new realities for data centre operators. Since there is a finite amount of power in data centres, greening may be achieved through better power utilization, and reducing power consumption.

Thus it is critical for data centres to implement a power monitoring, metering and usage based billing solution:

* You cannot manage what you cannot measure – usage based power monitoring will provide the information required to effectively manage data centre power capacity.
* A power inventory system will increase power efficiency through effective power allocation. Every available VA of power must be utilized productively, and matched against power inventory.
* “Right sizing” your HVAC & power infrastructure against available power capacity to minimize capital expenditures, and deliver the lowest cost per VA
* “Green” data centres by encouraging users to conserve available capacity by billing on power usage. Usage based billing will encourage users to adopt “green” initiatives such as; turning off under utilized servers, server virtualization, turning on power saving features and so on.

[...] This back-and-forth popped up again in post written by IBM’s Tony Pearson in response to a post written by Hitachi Data Systems’ Hu Yoshida. Yoshida’s post referred to a conversation with a storage admin at SNW who said his robotic tape libraries were actually drawing more power than his enterprise VTL. [...]

Internet Phone on 09 Oct 2011 at 3:49 pm

Great blog post. Things i would like to bring up is that computer memory is required to be purchased but if your computer can no longer cope with anything you do by using it. One can deploy two RAM memory boards with 1GB each, as an example, but not one of 1GB and one of 2GB. One should look for the manufacturer’s documentation for the PC to make sure what type of ram is essential.

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