It`s Not Easy Going Green

When it comes to creating environmentally friendly data centers, there’s a lot of talk, but not much action. Surveys show that IT managers would like to “green up” their data centers, but not many are actually doing it.

What’s going on? It’s not often that companies get the chance to save money and the planet at the same time, so why isn’t everyone jumping on the green bandwagon?

Well, as with most things in life, it’s not that simple.

IT management has to meet the business’ ever-increasing technology demands, while simultaneously trying to keep costs and energy consumption down. Not an enviable position to be in.

Our “Going Green: Hype or Trend?” article (see page 20) mentions an April 2008 “Lean & Green” report from the Business Performance Management Forum that underscores the disparity between what managers would like to do and what they are actually doing: Nearly 75 percent of the survey respondents said green computing was “at least somewhat of a priority,” but only 44 percent said they had any specific plans in place.

In an even more disheartening finding, Symantec’s 2007 Green Data Center Report found that only one in seven data center managers either implemented or had begun to implement a green data center. Yet, the enterprises surveyed in that study, which was conducted for Symantec by Ziff Davis Enterprise, spent an average of $1.4 million per year on electricity for their data centers. And, as we all are painfully aware, the cost of electricity continues to skyrocket along with its consumption.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, electricity consumption for servers, cooling and auxiliary infrastructures doubled in the United States between 2000 and 2005. The EPA forecasts continued growth in the server population as enterprises expand their data center capabilities.

Adding to the dismal forecast is a report by the Data Center Institute of AFCOM, an association for data center management professionals. The institute, a think tank that includes data center managers and industry leaders, estimates that over the next five years, power failures and limits on power availability will interrupt data center operations at more than 90 percent of all companies.

Faced with these frightening scenarios, how are companies responding? Many are increasing their energy efficiency through server consolidation and/or virtualization. In fact, in Symantec’s survey, about 32 percent of respondents chose consolidation/virtualization as the top technology for reducing power consumption in their data centers.

Other enterprises are replacing energy-hogging computers with IT products with low energy consumption. Power management is also important here. In April, the EPA launched an Energy Star Low Carbon IT campaign, stating that if all office computers and monitors in the country were set to sleep mode when not being used, we could save $4 billion worth of electricity and avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to about 5 million cars each year.

Going even further, some IT managers are redesigning their data centers to take advantage of a hot aisle/cold aisle approach, as opposed to having all the racks facing in one direction. This layout, which the Symantec study says has now become the most common way to design a data center, allows companies to focus their cooling and heat-removal efforts on the hot aisles.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, companies are constructing completely green facilities for their data centers—facilities that offer state-of-the-art airflow, cooling and heat-removal systems. Some pioneering firms are even moving their data centers to remote areas near a water source.

There are obviously different levels of greenness in the data center, and companies will move at their own pace. But if that pace is too slow, energy costs will continually rise, adversely affecting the competitiveness of the business. And as environmental concerns become even more widespread, the refusal to decrease power consumption may even cause a customer or community backlash.

Clearly, it won’t be easy to go green, but just as clearly, it has to be done—sooner rather than later.

So, tell me, where does your company stand?