When it comes to cutting data center costs, never let a good recession go to waste.
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IT pros and Gartner researchers offer up some penny pinching tips that can cut costs in the data center during a 12- to 18-month period and help companies weather the recession.
First, the bad economy gives businesses a valid excuse to push back on vendors concerning everything from prices of hardware to software licenses to maintenance contracts.
"In times of a recession and slashed budgets, vendors are really clamoring for business," said David Reynolds, a systems manager with the Rhode Island Blood Center in Providence, RI. "Those with clients are clinging to them, those seeking new ones have been given much more latitude in what they can offer prospects," Reynolds said. "This can be especially beneficial to those of us in the smaller markets that in previous years did not have as loud a voice at the pricing negation table."
Scrapping expensive support contracts entirely or negotiating new terms and conditions for a less money can also bring big bottom-line savings.
"Let's face it; every cost is being scrutinized … in some cases, [we look at] costs to be done away with in [their] entirety. The question becomes, what does support on that cost? How often we use it, and if we drop the contract, what can we do as an alternate plan if that breaks?" Reynolds said. "Support contracts from some vendors might be considered 'gravy' if the client never has to call for support. … It's like an insurance policy you have but never use."
In particular, antiquated hardware is more expensive to maintain, and can tie up funds that could be used for new hardware, Reynolds said.
"There are niche companies that write support contracts for this older equipment while keeping a small inventory of parts for replacement," Reynolds said. "It's an IT junkyard business."
Tips for improving data center energy efficiency
Evaluating your data center resources. Taking a hard look at how hardware is being used and eliminating unnecessary equipment can yield a 5% to 10% overall savings, according to research firm Gartner Inc.
The firm suggests performing asset and inventory management to see how effectively equipment is used and the maintenance and support charges for each system. Server "rationalization" will also reduce data center energy costs, typically more than $400 per server, per year, Gartner said.
Plus, cycling out the old, less-efficient hardware in favor of more efficient servers and CPUs can also reduce long-term costs.
Upgrading to Intel's Xeon 5500 "Nehalem" chip boosted server performance and reduced costs for one IT professional from Michigan, who responded to a question posted on the Ars OpenForum IT community site. Nehalem runs faster per watt and has a higher tolerance for heat, so cooling temperatures can be increased, and the chip uses less power when idle.
"Nehalem chips are monstrously efficient things. If you're already doing virtualization, consider doing the outlay to buy new systems. You can make your money back on power savings pretty quickly," he said.
Server virtualization strategies. Consolidating servers using virtualization also saves money long-term because companies end up with less hardware, and therefore lower maintenance and support costs. VMware Inc. says its software can save at least 50% on hardware costs.
Of course, virtualization also requires licenses and management software that can be very expensive, but Gartner reports that users can expect to see net savings within 24 months. Plus, using virtualization can reduce server energy consumption by as much as 82% and floor space by as much as 86%.
Adjusting data center cooling strategy. Another way to reduce power costs is by tweaking the data center cooling strategy; increasing a data center's temperature to 24 degrees Celsius, using outside air as an alternative to expensive air conditioning, better hot-aisle/cold-aisle configurations, blanking panels and economizers; and using server energy management software.
IT pros on the Ars OpenForum IT site said proper hot-aisle/cold-aisle design can reduce cooling costs 30% to 40%. "In general, good HVAC design can save a ton on operating costs and happy equipment. Proper location of thermostats and remote sensors so that they reflect the true temperature and not in a hot spot or under a supply grille can go a long way," an IT administrator from Morrisville, N.C., wrote. "Also, computers really do not need to be in a room that is 60 degrees. With proper design and airflow, it can be in the upper 70s without any issues at all. After all, it is the temperature inside the machines that counts, not what you feel when you walk in."
Chuck Goolsbee, a vice president of technical operations at the Seattle-based colocation facility Digital Forest Inc., said he keeps costs low by being conservative with power and cooling. "We start with a large space, but only add power and cooling infrastructure capacity to it when we have to," he said. "Basically, slotting in the expensive stuff only when the need arises."
He shopped around for a utility provider that could accommodate fast, low-cost expansions of electrical installations in the data center as needed.
And while energy bills continue to climb, the single largest cost for most data centers continues to be labor, running as high as 40% of the overall budget, according to Gartner.
So hiring fewer IT pros that have a broad skill set is a good way to contain costs. "There is an increased demand for us multifaceted technicians; the broad-based IT guys who can do a little of everything are really in high demand despite the economic climate," Reynolds said. "Why not hire one guy at a better salary vs. three at a 'good' salary. Only problem is, that one guy has to carry a picture of his family in his wallet so he remembers what they look like."
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