Steve Yellen, vice president of product and market strategy at Aperture Technologies, argues that striving for a greener data centre has become a business imperative as well as an environmental one.

The ‘Green IT’ movement, once a concept relegated to a small group of environmentally concerned tree-huggers, is attracting attention from organisations around the world.

And with soaring energy prices, shrinking floor space and the generation of ever larger masses of data, the ‘green data centre’ is fast becoming a focal point of interest. Advances in information technology—including blade computing, virtualisation and server consolidations—have all contributed to a changing pattern in data deployments.

Recent statistics reported by the Environmental Protection Agency indicate the total power consumed by servers (including cooling and auxiliary infrastructure) represented approximately 1.2 percent of the total electricity used in the US in 2005 which is more than double the use when compared with 2000—with IT hardware and data centres being the leading national contributor to carbon emissions.

To further compound the issue, the costs associated with a kilowatt of electricity is rising significantly. Currently, power and cooling costs represent up to two fifths of a data centre’s total cost of ownership. The Uptime Institute estimates the current three-year cost of powering and cooling servers is approximately one-and-a-half times the cost of purchasing server hardware. By 2012 power and cooling costs could represent 22 times the cost of hardware.

One of the major reasons corporations have not implemented a green strategy to date is confusion as to what constitutes the best approach and what measures can successfully gauge whether specific strategies and technologies actually work.

In response to the lack of standards and confusion, a new non-profit initiative, The Green Grid, has been established by a consortium of information technology companies and professionals to promote energy efficiency and lower the overall consumption of power in data centres. The group is currently in the process of collecting real-time data from data centres in order to provide data centre managers with a roadmap and a baseline set of best practices.

Five steps to a greener pasture

As the industry awaits a comprehensive roadmap, organisations can still take their first meaningful steps towards creating greener data centres. First, however, a word of warning: don’t invest in a “greener” data centre just for the sake of achieving a greener data centre. Although positive from a marketing point of view and beneficial from a moral stand point, a clear business case should always be made with these types of initiatives.

1. Work out exactly what equipment you have running where. This information forms the starting point on your journey to a greener data centre. If you don’t know what you’ve got or what it’s doing you can’t make informed decisions or measure improvements.

2. Identify and eliminate redundant ‘ghost’ servers to deliver an immediate impact on the bottom line. In a recent survey carried out by the Aperture Research Institute (ARI) 81 percent of respondents indicated that their organisation had a formal process in place for decommissioning servers when they were no longer required by the business. However, only just over a quarter (27 percent) said that they physically removed redundant servers. Meanwhile, more than one in five (21 percent) admitted to leaving redundant systems lying around in more than 50 percent of cases. These forgotten -- and usually undocumented and unprotected -- pieces of equipment take up valuable floor space, and consume power needed elsewhere. Estimates currently indicate that by removing just one physical server from service can save £458 annually in electricity costs (assuming 6.5 pence per kilowatt-hour cost).

3. Implement holistic working practices. In many companies IT and Facilities operate as two separate and distinct organisations with little communication and interaction. Those responsible for purchasing and operating IT equipment are not the same as those responsible for the power and cooling infrastructure -- leading to split incentives. Those most capable of controlling the use of energy have very little incentive to do so. A single business model where both IT and Facilities work together will be critical to harness the power and cooling resources within the data centre. Having a tightly integrated group that combines both IT and Facilities cohesively will enable an organisation to fill in the necessary gaps and improve the overall business process. Additionally it allows users to understand metrics as well as move towards a greener way of doing things.

4. Monitor actual power and implement standardised performance measurements. ARI research shows that just 40 percent of data centre managers currently monitor and while 44 percent are “considering doing so”, a disturbing 17 percent have no plans to do so at all. Quoted power ratings may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but with The Green Grid working on efficiency standards, you will soon be ready to calculate, benchmark and implement best practices. By assessing and reporting on the energy performance -- including power distribution and power cooling -- benchmarking will help data centre managers better understand the relationships between power distribution and consumption.

5. Don’t over or under-provision. Avoid over-provisioning by working out your business IT needs and then fitting the data centre around them. Under-provisioning is also a major concern: ARI research shows that in the past two years, 44 percent of recently surveyed data managers have run out of space, power or cooling capacity without having sufficient advanced notice. Planning for the future business IT needs helps to avoid over or under-provisioning.

Following a greener path has become much more than an altruistic endeavour. Organisations are focusing on developing green data centres in order to reduce exorbitant power and cooling costs as well as improve operational efficiency. It is apparent that the need to construct and operate green buildings will be more and more important for shareholder value and for the environment. New and emerging tactics and technologies are necessary to develop solutions that address today's critical business needs and environmental requirements. These will deliver economic benefits in an environmentally sound manner, while addressing power and cooling issues in the data centre.

Steve Yellen is vice president marketing at datacentre managemetn software provider Aperture Technologies