Going green in the data centre is more talk than action

Sure, everybody’s talking about the environment these days, but how many organizations are actually doing something about it in the data centre?

Five years ago, energy efficiency wasn’t even on the map – data centre operators were taught to focus on availability and uptime.

For most organizations in Canada, building a brand-new “green” data centre from the ground up is simply not an option because it means tearing out an installed base of technology at great expense.

About two-thirds of Canadian firms say they are concerned, very concerned, or extremely concerned about energy efficiency and waste in IT, said Aaron Hay, research consultant with Info-Tech Research Group, an analyst firm based in London, Ont.

“But at the same time about two-thirds actually rank themselves as wasteful in some way,” he said. “So they’re concerned, but there’s a bit of a gap where only a third are actually doing anything, and when you break it down to the data centre specifically, the number gets even smaller.”

Pre-green adopters are starting to look specifically at their data centres, but some 70 to 80 per cent – or more – don’t know where to start at this point.

C-level executives are starting to see “green” as a requirement, he said, but it’s not a perspective that necessarily shared by upper and mid-level management, who don’t know where to start.

Outside the data centre, it’s a lot easier to do adopt green practices, such as developing PC power management policies, which might take a couple of weeks to put in place.

“If you’ve got a data centre with 100 servers, it’s a much more difficult proposition to change that when your entire business is reliant on that data centre,” he said.

In Symantec’s recent Green Data Center Global Survey, nearly three-fourths of respondents said they have an interest in adopting a strategic green data centre initiative, but only one in seven have been successful at implementing one.

“A lot of the data centre managers in Canada actually have a bit of confusion about what the definition of green is,” said Sean Derrington, director of storage management with Symantec Corp. They also had ulterior motives for implementing energy-efficient servers or server virtualization, such as saving money.

“We found that most of the data centre managers are trying to reduce energy consumption because they’re feeling the pinch in terms of the cost, and the green data centre is actually corollary to that.”

Fifty per cent of Canadian respondents have corporate green policies in place — and that number is significantly higher than the Americas at 38 per cent. Despite this, Canadians are still on par with the rest of the world in terms of not aggressively implementing a green data centre, said Derrington.

A large percentage of them are focused on keeping the business up and running and not necessarily available for elective projects, such as greening the data centre.

Server virtualization and consolidation are seen as the top two ways they could begin to implement a green data centre over the next 12 months.

They’re also looking to increase storage utilization.

In a recent survey by IDCt 47 per cent of organizations polled said they’re buying equipment that consumes less power.

If it comes to choosing between one product and another, with similar price and functionality, they will then consider “green” technology (since there’s also a cost benefit down the road).

A growing number of Canadian organizations are considering what they’re doing around their data centres, and here in Canada that often means the 200 square foot server room, said Jason Bremner, director of research for Canadian infrastructure hardware with IDC Canada.

Those data centres or server rooms are aging – many were built about 10 years ago, when we saw a shift to client/server computing. Consolidation does help, and organizations can see big results, he said, but it does cost money to get the big improvements.

But there are other ways to green the data centre, without a major overhaul. First, however, you need to have some form of measurement to know if you’re actually saving power, said Hay. “I have yet to run into a client who’s said they’re specifically measuring the consumption of the components of the data centre.”

While you can’t necessarily get the true consumption of that data centre, there are ways to approximate the amount of power the data centre is using by doing some basic software metering.

A lot of companies aren’t ready to replace their data centre, so they should look at where they can turn machines off or change their storage strategy so there’s less duplication.

They can also look at better ways to dispel heat and engage in better air flow management to make sure they’re getting the best air flow possible. “We’re in Canada,” said Hay. “Why don’t we use cold air from outside to cool the data centre rather than using air conditioners in the winter?”

Vendors are offering more energy-efficient servers, but it is a lot of hype, he said, and there is no shared industry metric to compare server A to server B at this point.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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