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Servers get no rest during the holidays

Even as IT organizations look for ways to save power, very few -- if any -- will shut down idle servers or use power management tools.

Over the Christmas holiday vacation, Stanford University shuts down the utilities in more than three-quarters of its 220 buildings on campus but like most organizations, its IT infrastructure stays up and running, said Susan Kulakowski, campus energy manager.

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The Stanford, Calif.-based university saves about $250,000 in utility costs during the annual shutdown. It could save more if a portion of its IT infrastructure shut down, but that's not an option, Kulakowski said.

"There would be a big outcry if we tried to shut down our servers. We scale down IT staff and shut off utilities in other areas, but our students and staff still use the system over the break, so we have to have it available," Kulakowski said. searched in vain for an enterprise that shuts down servers over the holiday break and came up with this: Even the most idle servers are kept awake at all times because the prospect of shutting down is just plain scary.

The road not taken: Shutting down servers
Arthur Zards, president and CEO of the small, Chicago-based colocation facility XNet Information Systems Inc., said it is unheard of for his customers to shut down servers whether they use them or not.

"The fear with shutting down your servers is that they won't come up again properly. People have important applications and backup running on their servers, and though they are designed to boot up properly, that doesn't mean they will," Zards said.

There are no holidays or long weekends on the Internet.
Chuck Goolsbee,
VP, technical operationsdigital.forest

Another reason IT doesn't shut down its servers is for convenience -- it's just easier to leave everything up and running, Zards said.

At the Seattle-based colocation facility digital.forest, servers will stay online because "there are no holidays or long weekends on the Internet," said Chuck Goolsbee, vice president of technical operations at digital.forest.

"[Digital.forest] never even considered shutting down systems on a holiday weekend. The world is a big place with 24 time zones, and … one place's holiday is another's business day," Goolsbee said. "We have customers from 42 different countries. Our staff is here 24/7, even on Christmas, so even internal systems have to be running all the time."

Also, IT operations in organizations that combine the electrical expenses of various departments have no real incentive to conserve power, said Aaron Sawchuk, co-founder of Quincy, Mass.-based ColoSpace.

"Another factor is that many people are billed for electricity based on peak demand rather than the total number of kilowatt-hours they consume. In this scenario, there is zero cost savings for conserving power for a certain number of hours a day or days a month," Sawchuk said.

Power-saving options
According to a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, U.S. data center energy consumption could be reduced by as much as 20% within five years if data center managers implemented even minor efforts, such as shutting down servers or using power management technologies.

There are several hardware and software options that manage datacenter power consumption in different ways, including virtualization and power sensitive processors.

Kulakowski said Stanford University is looking at virtualization technologies to consolidate servers and she hopes their IT department will manage power with it in the future, especially when the rest of the university shuts down.

Sawchuk plans to experiment with power savings via virtualization in 2008 as well.

Then, there are software vendors selling specialized tools that make it easier to consolidate and shut down idle servers.

In its latest release, VMware announced an experimental feature for its Virtual Infrastructure 3 suite called Distributed Power Management (DPM) that groups virtual machines on to the minimum number of ESX hosts, with the aim of shutting down unneeded boxes.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cassatt Corp. offers the power management software Active Power Management, which controls data center power based on individual environments, said Ken Oestreich, director of product marketing.

"We find … that depending on the type of company, at any given time there is something that is not being used, even during peak hours," Oestreich said.

Cassatt offers a savings calculator on its Web site that tells users approximately how much Active Power Management can save in their environment.

Cassatt is working to dispel myths about power management, including the idea that turning servers off and on increases the likelihood they will fail.

"There is this myth that turning servers off is risky, but as long as you do it gently and with software in mind, you won't have an issue," said Oestreich. "We run into this type of hesitation to turn things off constantly, but once people see the savings potential, they are more willing to try it out."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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