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Fiscally in favor of sustainable computing

Data center energy consumption is more than a sustainability issue -- it's a major cost to the business. When proposing green IT initiatives, start at the bottom line.

The green movement got companies interested in saving the planet, which looked promising until the world's economic systems flipped.

When first-world banking systems went into turmoil and rapid expansion in emerging economies created additional shockwaves, investing in green seemed like pouring money down a drain.

But green isn't dead. We've had some strange weather -- snow in the southern U.S., floods in the U.K., hard drought in the more fertile states of Australia -- that brings environmental conservation back to the fore.

But even to the most critical global warming naysayer, sustainable computing could still pay off. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels isn't just good for the planet; it's also good for business.

How to frame the eco data center discussion

Organizations are high energy users, in large part due to computing. Cutting data center energy consumption and investing in green power sources could reduce carbon emissions. But the data center doesn't just process predictable back-end tasks -- it supports business growth.

In times of economic constraint, digitally enabled sales and customer outreach seem far more important than the possibility that, a few hundred years from now, water will be scarce. Harsh, but essentially true -- no one has yet lost their job by putting the good of their organization ahead of the planet.

So bring economic sense and green together for sustainable computing.

Going to the executive team and asking for investment in green technologies will earn blank stares or outright laughter. Walk in with a proposal based on energy savings that demonstrates how green initiatives cut data center costs, which enables greater investment in other areas of the business and helps minimize the impact of highly variable but upwardly trending energy prices. That should get the business' interest, and free up the funding required.

The discussions have nothing to do with green initiatives, sustainability or saving the planet. However, once you have funding and implement changes, make sure that the corporate social responsibility (CSR) team is aware of the projects. They can use the results to show that your organization is green and conscientious, which is due to solid economic decisions. Green investments should be used to enhance the organization's brand as much as possible.

Green options for computing racks

Any data center that cools racks with standard computer room air conditioning (CRAC) systems wastes energy. Most run at power utilization effectiveness (PUE) ratios of 2.5 or greater. For every watt of energy that goes to the server, another 1.4 Watts goes to peripheral equipment, mostly the CRAC units. In a 1 MW data center facility, the CRAC units consume 500 kW of power.

Replace these CRAC designs with a low-energy, free air cooling system, and run the data center at higher temperatures that still fit within ASHRAE's guidelines. The 1 MW data center will end up saving 450 kW of power consumed. This saves money that can go straight to the bottom line or be reinvested in areas that create business value.

The investment in revamping data center cooling is actually quite low and the ROI will be rapid and ongoing. The economic benefit pairs with CSR goals -- saving 450 kW is a considerable reduction in carbon emissions.

The same goes for consolidation and rationalization onto a virtualized or cloud platform. The move from 10% to 20% server utilization rates up to 50% or 60% means that the data center only needs to power one-third to one-fifth the amount of physical servers. In addition to reducing electricity use, this saves licensing, maintenance, real estate and other costs. The capital investment to move to a new virtualized platform can be high, but ROI is rapid. Take an incremental approach of consolidation on existing equipment and introduce a rolling upgrade program for new equipment.

Many countries also offer tax concessions (or at least a lower overall tax burden) to organizations that demonstrate an active approach to lower carbon emissions. In the U.K., there is the CRC EES program; the EU has emissions trading standards called EU ETS; and the U.S. has myriad programs by state and federal agencies. For data centers working under green-conscious jurisdictions, cutting down on carbon emissions through lower energy use provides immediate payback.

Consider the original green argument: Burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases that cause global climate change, resulting in more extreme weather patterns, leading to food and water availability risks and species extinctions, among other effects. By cutting down our dependence on fossil fuels, we may -- just may -- be able to slow down or stop the slide to the human race killing itself off. And we can certainly save some operating expenses along the way.

About the author:
Clive Longbottom is the co-founder and service director of IT research and analysis firm Quocirca, based in the U.K. Longbottom has more than 15 years of experience in the field. With a background in chemical engineering, he's worked on automation, control of hazardous substances, document management and knowledge management projects.

Next Steps

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Have you reduced PUE in the data center over the past 12 months? How much energy were you consuming, before and after sustainability efforts?