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Green data centers are about money, not the environment

Data centers' impact on the environment is overblown, says systems management expert Richard Ptak. The real goal of green data centers should be save money through systems management tools like IBM's Tivoli.

It's time to revisit the issue of "global warming" and the data center. My last column predicted rising volume and pressures related to the "Greening of IT". I should have predicted an earsplitting cacophony of noise and confusion about greening just about everything, along with lots of "do as I say, not as I do" from celebrity/media mouths. Let's look at some of the value in the announcement waves from IT players such as IBM and HP. (This is not to ignore the efforts of EMC, CA, and so many others – I just have limited column space).

Shrinking resources and higher energy prices

More on green data centers:
Big Blue pushes green computing project

HP pushes for lower data center power consumption, green computing 

The green data center: Energy-efficient server technologies

The issue for us isn't anthropogenic global warming (AGW), although you'd never guess it from media rehashing (almost word for word) horror stories last published in the 1930's of melting ice sheets and dying polar bears – despite their significant (and documented) growth in numbers. Does selective, confidential adjustment and misrepresented data, which is used to power doomsday models that contradict actual physical events, mean we should forget about reducing air conditioning requirements, power consumption, and data center sprawl? Well, no.

What's happening today is basic economics. Basic and immutable laws of economics state that increasing demands for a limited resource drive energy prices ever higher. The demand for more power and oil isn't going to decrease. And we must pay attention, if for no other reason than IT and the enterprise data center will be impacted.

Rapidly expanding and maturing economies in India, China, South America, Eastern Europe, and Africa –are all fighting for oil and power to fuel growth. Demand-driven price increases can be a major problem for enterprises looking to maintain revenue streams and profit margins in a highly competitive world. The only reasonable responses are programs that increase operational efficiency and reduce power demand. Good business practices alone justify efforts to perform your own IT environmental checks and decide how to respond to the latest fad of IT greening.

Data centers ripe for power management
Facility managers have long recognized and treated the data center as a potential target for cost savings from energy management and automated environmental (heating and air conditioning) control. The data center has been the focus of facility audits provided by a wide range of facility management consultants, including IBM Global Services and others. Such audits evaluate and make recommendations for changes to physical layout, server location, etc. to eliminate hotspots, maximize effectiveness of air conditioning, air flow, and so forth.

The focus of recent interest (and vendor announcements) has been the potential for leveraging IT and IT infrastructure management in cost savings, energy reduction and power management. After all, it is no secret that processors alone account for somewhere between 35 % and 65% of energy consumed in the data center. The question is: Can IT and infrastructure management software significantly contribute to make data center operations "more green"?

The answer won't be found in simply turning down the air conditioning and allowing staff to work in t-shirts and cutoffs. Nor does it lie in cutting short the work day (sigh). The desired savings will be achieved through creative, informed and automated management and updated infrastructures. It means making the infrastructure (and everything attached to it) work smarter – which is the point of "green" management software.

The two biggest vendors in the game have major initiatives built on the theme of "green IT" - IBM (Project Big Green) and HP (Global Citizenship). Both have programs that integrate efforts by all parts of their enterprise. Our question is about software, and especially management software. We'll focus on IBM's Tivoli software to see how they contribute to more energy efficient data centers.

Systems management driving energy savings
IBM Tivoli uses their IBM Service Management software as the focus for delivering "green" data center products. Their products aim at reducing operational costs and improving infrastructure efficiency to reduce their environmental impact by (increasing operational) Visibility, (implementing intelligent) Control, and (providing policy-driven) Automation.

IBM management software collects the data needed to provide visibility into data center assets and operations to help identify inefficient operations and uncover underutilized or 'lost' systems. It can also automatically initiate action to adjust configurations and resource provisioning to reduce power while making sure business policies and priority commitments are met. This is easy (or not) to say but what does it mean in actuality?

  1. Dynamic infrastructure configuration and provisioning – to measurably reduce power consumption and air conditioning loads by:
    • Configuring servers to match workloads e.g. reducing processing power in off-peak workload situations.
    • Automatically provisioning/de-provisioning resources as workload (transaction volume, users logged on, etc.) changes.
    • Automating turn-on/off resources as needed.
  2. Dynamic processor configuration - IBM Director combines with Power Executive and ITM Power Agent to dynamically adjust multiple server and blade configuration settings. The object is to adjust power usage, temperature, and processing power to workloads. Speeds are lowered for light loads and in response to business operational priorities. Lower clock speeds mean less heat is generated reducing cooling requirements and lowering power consumption.
  3. Asset tracking – helps manage capital and investment expenses by helping to recover lost resources or discover hidden resources thus assure more effective usage. It also allows data collection and reporting on who is using what resources and to what extent. This allows decisions to be made for chargeback, as well as provides the basis for decision making about procurement and assignment of additional assets.
  4. Active facilities management – beyond traditional assessment and audit to advance the emerging integration of automated IT and Facilities management. One example:
    • Thermal mapping -- again combining multiple products (Maximo, ArcServer, etc.) to allow the creation of a thermal image of the data center that identifies a hotspot and the server located there. Management software determines the business criticality of the application resident on the server, and then automatically has a work order created and sent to alert IT personnel to move that server to a different rack.

There are also the internal "green" programs underway at IBM and HP. With massive support centers, extensive infrastructure, far-flung operations, and massive energy bills, these companies have powerful incentives to reduce their own power consumption and environmental-impact through internal programs. If "green IT" continues to attract so much attention, we'll be sure to do another column. Feel free to send comments and questions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard Ptak is an analyst with Ptak, Noel & Associates. He has over 30 years experience in systems product management.

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