It's not easy being green

The environmental challenge facing the IT industry is profound. Problems cannot be solved by throwing money at them, which means there is a major opportunity to turn a long-standing industry right on its head. Steve Duplessie gives a US view of the issues that face IT managers and IT companies worldwide.

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Question: Can you elaborate more on these "green IT" issues that keep coming up? Is this the tail wagging the dog, or is there something real going on here?

Answer: Oh, it is real my friend, a little too real in some cases. First, don't let my answer make you think I've gone all hippie all of a sudden, as nothing could be further from the truth. I remain one of the people who is an eco-problem generator vs. a problem solver. I don't do it intentionally, I just have one of those lives: 87 kids = big giant vehicles and a big house with lots of lights left on constantly. I make myself feel better by separating the cardboard and paper from the trash. You know the type.

Here are some frightening realities: You can't buy any more power in the cities of Boston or Houston, and other cities are either on the tapped-out list or about to be. It doesn't matter if you are Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, you can't buy any more. That, my friends, is a pretty harsh reality. We all know that every data centre in a restricted environment, such as the uber-expensive Canary Wharf in London, is facing very real limits and will have to do something radical and most assuredly expensive to deal those restrictions.

It isn't as simple as just packing up and moving down the road. A new data centre costs hundreds of millions of dollars and takes years to build. Cutting over to that new data centre can take just as long. Meanwhile, the demands placed on the data centre and its operations aren't staying flat, they are growing. I was recently told that the power company in Boston will write you a $4 million dollar cheque if you break ground for a new data centre -- outside the city.

Green isn't just about building disk arrays out of reusable tin foil or switches that contain 30% animal waste. Green is about how efficiently IT gear uses space, directs air flow, is managed, etc. It's a measure of "usability" if nothing else. If you have no more room, you need to rip out big things and put in small things. If you have no more power, you need to rip out inefficient things and replace them with more efficient things -- remembering that whatever metric you are measuring (such as I/O, server cores, ports or throughput) is growing, not shrinking.

Ripping out 100 square feet of servers and replacing them with four square feet of blade servers with equivalent processing power is great unless the heat generated in the micro package causes a meltdown in that area of the data centre. I have had conversations with real people who won't buy blade servers for just that reason. Density equals heat, and heat equals hot spots, which require cooling and humidification and airflow consideration.

It also doesn't make sense to replace a giant disk array that is an inefficient consumer of power with a more efficient array of similar capacity if the new one doesn't perform to the levels required because you'll just end up adding twice as much processing power and end up right back at the same problem.

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