IT Energy Efficiency: Some Simple Steps

By John McCormick Print this article Print

There are more than a half-dozen ways data center operators can cut power consumption.

A few years ago, none but the most environmentally conscious information technology managers thought about energy efficiency. Today, most are looking at their electric bills. And, 70% of the I.T. operations managers polled recently by Gartner said power and cooling were major concerns.

Why the change?

Energy is becoming a significant expense as information technology equipment—PCs, servers, switches becomes more powerful, and more power hungry. Power can account for as much as 40% to 50% of a data center's operating cost. In fact, it costs about $2.6 million annually to power and cool a 25,000-square-foot data center, according to some reports.

But just about anywhere you look across a data center, there are energy savings to be had.

Start with the PC. AMD and Intel have developed chips that have twice the processing power yet consume less than half the energy as previous generations of their products.

Granted, it doesn't help that, as IBM has noted, only about 10% of a PCs resources is actually used in any given day. But there are tools that allow for better power management when the machines aren't in use. These include remote management software that can put PCs and laptops in sleep mode when they're not active. A company with 10,000 PCs could save $100,000 a year with simple power management, says Jon Weisblatt, a senior manager at Dell leading the company's energy efficiency efforts.

And moving from PCs, which consumes about 85 watts, to thin clients, which need somewhere between 40 to 50 watts to operate, could cut end user energy consumption in half.

Then there are the servers. The power consumption of these systems doubled between 2000 and 2005, according to an estimate by Jonathan Koomey, a Lawrence Berkeley National Labs scientist and Stanford University professor. According to Koomey, servers and associate gear accounted for 1.2% of the country's overall electricity consumption in 2005. Yet servers are in use little more than PCs—about 10% to 15% of the time.

Many companies are turning to virtualization, which allows companies to run multiple operating systems and applications on a single server, to reduce their power consumption. Consider managed service provider Data Return. The company's co-founder, Jason Lochhead, said his company could save 50% to 70% on its power and cooling bills if the company virtualized its entire server farm. Deploying blade servers—a single board with processors and memory that can be slid into servers—could result in similar savings.

I.T. managers are also focusing on storage. The amount of data stored by corporations increased fourfold between 2004 and 2006 and storage devices now consume about 25% of a data center's energy usage. Storage virtualization can help companies control storage needs by better utilizing equipment. An even simpler step is to eliminate the data you don't need—a process called "data minimization." Some information, of course, must be kept to meet with industry and government regulations. But a lot of companies just pack away data they'll never need again.

Then take the data center itself. To cool things down, companies usually rely on air conditioning. But to save on the AC, companies can pipe in cold water and pump it through coils around the server racks, which can substantially lower cooling costs.

Some data centers also have started looking into solar power. Granted, covering the data center roof with solar panels may be a bit extreme for some companies.

But, the experts say, by being smart about energy consumption, I.T. managers can cut data center energy usage and its costs by 50% or more—which, for a lot of companies, could produce an annual saving of $1 million or more. And what better reason for I.T. managers to go green than to put more green in their companies' pockets.

This article was originally published on 2007-06-14
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