Space GainsBy Samuel Greengard | Posted 2009-02-22 Print
A good energy policy can supercharge an organization’s performance through direct electricity savings, a diminished need for facilities, and lower capital costs related to servers, storage and other devices.
Some of the most important tools in many organizations’ energy arsenals are virtualization and consolidation. Virtualization software can double or triple utilization rates and purge unneeded systems—often older energy hogs.
Consultant Desai points out that server virtualization is just one piece of the puzzle, with storage, application and presentation virtualization also paying dividends. “Although virtualization is not the answer in itself,” he says, “it can provide impressive results and lead to significantly lower energy bills.”
A growing number of organizations are joining the virtualization and consolidation bandwagon. At Xasax, a Naples, Fla., provider of software for high-frequency trading systems, virtualization has become a major contributor to lower energy costs. The company has already converted 200 physical servers into 500 virtualized machines. It costs Xasax approximately $2,400 per year to power, cool and host each physical server, says CEO Noah Lieske. Using Voltaire’s Infiniband switching fabric, the company has lowered the cost to approximately $240 to power, cool and host a virtual machine.
Another organization that’s sold on virtualization and consolidation is Fulton County, Ga., which provides services for 988,000 citizens. With a work force of 5,500 and more than 6,000 workstations, the county is obviously concerned with energy efficiency. “We are getting a sense of how important it is to operate in a more energy-efficient manner,” says Jay Terrell, deputy director of IT. “We understand that we must make changes.”
Fulton County initially selected 125 servers for virtualization, which allowed it to consolidate underutilized legacy servers at a ratio of at least 8-to-1. The net result—through a combination of VMware and a new Fujitsu blade server platform—is a savings of more than $44,000 per year in power costs.
Terrell is also retiring old hardware. “We realized that we had many older Wintel servers that were beyond their useful lifespan,” he says. “Mean time between failures was shrinking, and the need to constantly upgrade the system was growing.”
Although the primary benefit of life cycle management is an optimal IT infrastructure, it also results in lower energy costs as more efficient systems are cycled in. In fact, Fulton County is now scrutinizing energy usage when making a purchasing decision.
Desai warns that too many organizations overlook asset and life cycle management. In some instances, he argues, the cost savings that result from postponing a purchase are more than offset by the higher energy costs that older systems incur. However, he adds that in other instances, an organization may benefit from extending the equipment life cycle. “The key is to conduct an audit and know what the situation is and which approach is best,” he says.
Some companies are even rethinking the structure of data centers—partly for cost considerations related to energy. “Companies are looking at mini data centers and even data centers in a box, which can be used for disaster recovery and niche operations,” Desai says. Others are considering reducing cooling—or using it in a more targeted manner. “It isn’t always necessary to keep a data center at 60 to 65 degrees,” he says.
Finally, many organizations are focusing on training employees to use IT resources more efficiently. Gartner’s Mingay says workers must learn to turn off computers when they’re not being used, and IT staffs should understand usage patterns and move toward a system that switches inactive systems off at prescribed times, while offering remote wake-up for patching and other administrative functions. “Unfortunately, too many IT departments get busy and feel they have a lot more important things to do, so basic power management techniques get lost in the shuffle,” he says.
The good news, Mingay adds, is that the current economic downturn is forcing organizations to look more closely at these issues. “The reality,” he says, “is that most energy-saving measures pay for themselves in a period ranging from a few months to a few years. In the scheme of things, it’s a very attractive deal. And there’s the added benefit of doing something good for the environment.”
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