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"Selling Popsicles to Eskimos"

By Elizabeth Millard Print this article Print

Green storage, strategies and technologies are all the rage, but despite the attention, many data centers have yet to green up their operations. 

Selling Popsicles to Eskimos
Some data centers may have the capacity to go greener with what currently exists, but may not even be aware of the functionality they have in-house. Drue Reeves, an analyst with the Burton Group, says: "We're seeing a 'sales of popsicles to Eskimos' kind of thing. Some vendors have already had features in their products that could increase energy efficiency, but now they're trying to resell them with that as a selling point."

Although green technology doesn't seem to be gaining the traction that its enthusiasts might like, it's probable that it will begin to take off in the near future, as older hardware gets replaced, Reeves notes.

"It doesn't make sense to replace a thousand servers just to get something more
energy-efficient," he says. "You'd end up paying millions just to save thousands." He anticipates that instead of a rip-and-replace strategy, companies will begin to think more strategically about what's currently running, and whether so many pieces of equipment are necessary, similar to turning off the lights in rooms that aren't used, Reeves adds.

"Last year seemed to be about energy efficiency for servers, and this year will be about efficiency for storage," he says. "But no matter what the technology, it's more about efficacy and proper management strategy than what's put in place."

For some data centers, going green may be an optimistic, long-term goal, but the short-term reality is that they're consuming power—and plenty of it—and can't shift gears very easily.

One example is Terremark Worldwide, which has a co-location hosting facility in Florida that can do only limited tweaking, since it allows customers to bring in their own equipment. The facility is 750,000 square feet and has a monthly power bill of $630,000, according to Ben Stewart, company spokesperson.

"When you talk about using that much power every month, swapping out a few pieces of hardware or recycling your paper is like going to the ocean and dropping a
five-pound bag of sugar into it to try to sweeten the water," he says.

Although builders of a newer Terremark facility in Washington, D.C., are implementing a number of green strategies during its construction, the Florida location depends on coal- and oil-driven generators that make its "carbon footprint enormous," Stewart notes. Also, its location doesn't allow for the type of "free cooling" strategies employed by northern data centers, which can bring in cold air from outside of the building during the winter.

For a data center of Terremark's size, the best option would be to move to an area with hydroelectric power, Stewart says, but in such areas, either the power is already being consumed by other companies, or there's no way to run fiber to the location. So, instead, there's just that enormous power bill and numerous conversations with customers to persuade them to buy more energy-efficient equipment, Stewart says.

"Everything is a trade-off," he says. "Every decision brings up other issues. I'm sure every data center would love to be green and more efficient, since it's good for the planet, but the reality is that there's only so much we can do right now."

This article was originally published on 2008-04-23
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