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Closing the green gap: Expanding data centers with environmental benefits

Data centers can achieve both economic and environmental benefits by using resources more efficiently says the author of a new green IT reference book. The book avoids getting into the political and philosophical debates around what is considered green, and instead focuses on how to transform IT environments into more efficient information factories.

In his new book, The Green and Virtual Data Center, industry veteran analyst Greg Schulz offers his advice on reducing costs within the IT environment while enabling business and economic stability using resources such as power more efficiently.

Schulz explains switching to a greener virtual data center could actually reduce costs, and going "green" is not simply reducing one's carbon footprint but includes optimizing power, cooling, floor space, and environmental health and safety. To help clear up confusion surrounding green IT environments, Schulz has produced a guide for expanding businesses by upgrading technology in order to increase productivity. You can download Chapter 1 of The Green and Virtual Data Center, "IT Data Center Economic and Ecological Sustainment" here.

"The Green and Virtual Data Ceter" examines the opportunities for organizations trying to grow their business while being environmentally friendly. Why did you decide to write a book about this?
Greg Schulz: There are a couple of reasons I decided to write "The Green and Virtual Data Center." The first is that it had been a couple of years since my other book "Resilient Storage Networks" had been released and there were plenty of new themes, issues, technologies, techniques and opportunities to address. The other reason is that because I have a background in both the business applications side and infrastructure side of IT, as well as performance and capacity planning for servers, storage and networks, I saw the opportunity to help IT organizations close the green gap between messaging around green hype and where economic and business sustainability opportunities exist.

Book reviews claim you set aside the political aspects of what is or what is not considered green within the text? Why was it necessary to do this?
G.S.: Correct, the book sets aside the political and philosophical debates around what is considered green, global warming and other important issues, and focuses on what business can do today. The importance of setting aside political debates is to help separate business opportunities and issues from green hype and instead look at how to transform IT environments into more efficient information factories. By becoming more efficient information factories, IT data centers use resources more efficiently, resulting in both environmental and economic benefits.

In some ways, the book turns some of the green hype themes around by showing how IT environments become more efficient and get more work done in a shorter period of time using less power or cooling. This reduces costs while enabling both business and economic sustainability.

The Green and Virtual Data Center

Author: Greg Schulz

Publisher: CRC Press

Copyright: © 2009 Taylor & Francis LLC

Download Chapter 1: "IT Data Center Economic and Ecological Sustainment"
You mention the growing "green gap" within chapter one. What is the "green gap" and how did you attempt to close this gap within the text?
G.S.: The green gap is the disconnect between industry messaging and rhetoric, much of which has fallen on skeptical ears as green hype, or is perceived to be unaffordable during tough economic times. For example, when I regularly talk with IT professionals around the world, I ask them who has green mandates and while the number is growing, it's usually less than 20-25% (This percentage is up from about 10% just a couple of years ago). When I ask those same people how many have concerns or issues with power, cooling, floor-space, or environmental health safety from an availability, budget or other aspect that impacts their business, that number jumps to 70-80%, more in some geographies, a little less in others.

The green gap is that many individuals in the industry do not equate being green with power, cooling, floor space optimization and efficiency. Instead, individuals perceive green to be reducing carbon footprints. The ironic twist of the green gap is that by optimizing power, cooling, floor space, and environmental health and safety (PCFE), the byproduct is improved economics, more efficient energy use and potential reduction in carbon footprint -- all while enabling economic and business sustainability.

Chapter one tackles common IT data center myths. What are some of these myths and how did you clarify them?
G.S.: There are several myths, like it costs more to power most IT equipment than it does to buy it. While this can be true in some scenarios, particularly where the power is expensive and the cost for the equipment is very low, then the myth may hold true. But, for a typical enterprise or mid-range class server or storage system, in most environments it is still cheaper to power the equipment than to buy it.

While this can change, the real issue is about upgrading to more efficient technology that can get more work done in a shorter period of time and store more information in a smaller energy footprint to support growth. In some environments, reducing the energy footprint requires leveraging an existing power footprint to bring in more servers or storage, and floor space, power (primary or standby) or cooling needs to be made available. That availability can come from optimizing and effectively reusing available power footprints to get more work done efficiently, similar to better miles per gallon in a car.

Who is the intended audience of this book, and why is the audience important?
G.S.: The book is written for both IT professional as well as for vendors and value-added resellers (VARS), from IT practitioners, to IT architects, planners and management who are involved with servers, storage, networking, hardware software or services.

You claim that by focusing on ecological issues, there are corresponding economic benefits for businesses. How do these separate issues relate?
G.S.: One approach is to try and get funding to reduce your carbon footprint, however building a business case to simply reduce carbon emissions can be tough at best in today's economy. However, reversing the focus to optimizing IT, that is, shifting to efficiency to boost productivity, better utilize resources while maintaining or enhancing performance and response time as well as availability has the benefit of addressing both business sustainability, economic as well as providing an environmental benefit.

What first steps would you recommend to a company interested in developing a green data center?
G.S.: Short of reading my book, is to recognize the green gap along with separating green hype from the many different facets or faces of what green can mean both in terms of environmental as well as business and economic sustainability. That would be followed with identifying areas of issues or opportunities. Those could include realizing power or cooling may not be a major issue, however, by achieving better efficiency, more work can be done in a shorter amount of time with the benefits of boosting overall IT infrastructure resource management productivity. In other words, get ready now for supporting growth with a lower cost and better quality of service going forward.

The book references the growing skepticism about products, services, and companies that wrap themselves around green marketing. How did you address this and attempt to turn the skeptics into believers?
G.S.: The key is to look at where the issues and opportunities that most IT organizations can either get funding for, or, build a business case around to leverage transformation and optimization techniques for both short term tactical as well as long term strategic needs. Hence, take a step back and assess where current issues are, what opportunities exists, then align the applicable technology, as opposed to finding a technology and then find a problem or solution for the technology.

Basically, apply some common sense. Specifically, a sense of reality that balances different technologies and techniques for business growth while improving quality of service for IT end-users. The key is helping IT organizations recognize the existence of the green gap and then learn how to bridge that gap in order to meet different needs and resolve issues.

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