The Green and Virtual Data Center

Green IT is no fad. Paying attention to how resources are used to deliver information services in an energy-efficient, environmentally, and economically-friendly manner to boost efficiency and productivity is here to stay.

by Greg Schulz

To say that “green” is a popular trend is an understatement. Green messaging in general and in the information technology (IT) industry in particular tends to center around carbon footprint and emissions reduction or cost savings. The industry is seeing a shift from the initial green hype cycle of a few years ago to the more recent trough of disillusionment typically found with a post-technology or trend-hype hangover, to the current re-emergence and growing awareness of the many different faces and facets of being green.

Although green hype and “green washing” may be falling out of favor or appearing on an endangered species list, addressing core IT data center issues that impact how resources are used to deliver information services in an energy-efficient, environmentally, and economically-friendly manner to boost efficiency and productivity are here to stay.

IT data centers around the world face issues of power, cooling, and floor space and associated environmental health- and safety-related matters while working to support growth without disruption to application quality of service.

There are many aspects or facets of being and enabling green beyond the commonly discussed carbon footprint focus, particularly for IT organizations. Listen closely and you might hear mention of other topics and issues including buzzwords such as RoHS, WEEE, LEED, J-MOSS, energy avoidance or energy efficiency to boost productivity when enabling efficiency and optimization.

For example, StorageIO research continues to find a small percentage in the 7 to 15 percent range of IT organizations that have or need to go green based on perception that core issue is reducing the impact on the enterprise's carbon footprint. StorageIO research also shows that on average, 55 to 75 percent (if not more) organizations need to address power, cooling, footprint, and environmental health and safety constraints or issues while sustaining business growth without impact productivity.

Hence the “green gap” exists between focused messaging and broader IT initiatives or requirements centered on optimization, efficiency, and boosting productivity for business sustainability, all of which have green environmental and economic benefits.

Several existing technologies (along with other new and emerging ones) can be used in complimentary ways to enable a green and efficient virtual data center to support and sustain business growth. Some of the topics, technologies, and techniques include energy and cost footprint reduction, cloud-based storage and computing, managed services, intelligent power management and adaptive power management, blade centers and blade servers, server, storage and networking virtualization, data footprint reduction (including archiving, compression, and data de-duplication), tiered servers, storage, networks and data centers, energy and environmentally friendly infrastructure resource management, energy avoidance, and energy efficiency among others.

What Comprises a Green, Efficient and Effective Virtual Data Center?

There are many approaches and technologies that can be used to enable a green and virtual data center by addressing different issues and requirements. Virtualization is a popular approach to consolidate under-utilized IT resources, including servers, storage, and I/O networks to free floor space, lower energy consumption, and reduce cooling demands, all of which can lower costs.

Green and next-generation virtual data centers should be highly efficient, flexible, resilient, and environmentally friendly and economical to operate. Current industry and customer focus is on virtualization from a consolidation perspective, but in the future there will be even more opportunities for IT environments to adapt their processes, techniques, and technologies to sustain business growth and enhance application service delivery experience while reducing costs without compromising performance, availability, or ability to store and process more information.

A green and virtualized, as well as a cloud-based data center should be:

  • Flexible, scalable, stable, agile, and highly resilient or self healing
  • Able to adapt and leverage technology improvements quickly
  • Application- and data-transparent from physical resources
  • Efficient and effective without loss of performance or increased cost complexity
  • Environmentally friendly and energy efficient yet economical to maintain
  • Highly automated and seen as an information factory rather than a cost center
  • Measurable with metrics and reporting to gauge relative effectiveness
  • Secure from various threat risks without impeding productivity

Virtual data centers and cloud-based IT computing and services require physical resources and software to function efficiently and in a green and economically friendly manner.

Components of a green and virtual data center include:

  • People, processes, policies, procedures, and best practices
  • Hardware, software, and services on a local, remote, and wide-area basis
  • Infrastructure resource management (IRM), data protection management (DPM), and security tools
  • Measurements for management insight into resource usage and service delivery effectiveness
  • Efficient physical facilities or habitats for technology, including cloud-based IT tiered resources
  • Tiered facilities, servers, and software, storage and I/O networks (access), and tiered-data protection

Why Virtualize A Data Center?

A virtual data center, which includes both cloud and traditional environments can (and should) be thought of as an information factory that needs to run 24/7, 365 days a year, to deliver a sustained stream of useful information. For the information factory to operate efficiently, it needs to be taken care of and seen as a key corporate asset. Seen as an asset, the information factory merits an organization's investment to maintain and enhance productivity and efficiency (rather than being considered a cost center or liability).

As more of IT in general and applications specifically are virtualized, IT professionals must increase their understanding of how to maximize and leverage and effectively manage infrastructure resources instead of simply throwing more hardware at a problem. Increase your awareness of applicable issues, as well as what you can do today and tomorrow to support your specific needs. This includes educating yourself on the issues and alternative approaches and solutions, as well as looking at power efficiency and effectiveness versus simply avoiding power usage.

In most IT data centers, as well as in the tech industry at large, the focus is on application servers to reduce electric power consumption and cooling demands. Moving forward, given the anticipated continued growth in the amount of data generated, processed, and stored for longer periods, the focus will shift to optimizing data storage and associated networking components in the data center. To power IT equipment in the future, you may not be able to assume that your energy provider will be able to supply you with adequate and reliable power in a cost-effective manner.

Addressing IT efficiency, optimization, productivity, or green issues (including power, cooling, footprint, and environmental health and safety, among others) is a process; there is no one single solution or magic formula. Rather, a combination of technologies, techniques, and best practices to address the issues and requirements is needed. Green washing and green hype may fade away. However, efficiency- and optimization-related issues about boosting productivity and supporting economic sustainability are here to stay, the byproduct being an environmental benefit.

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg is author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can be found on Twitter @storageio.