Finding the Economic Green in Green Computing

Some simple fixes in the data center can add hard cash to an enterprise's bottom line, starting now.

DALLAS—Mark Monroe has a simple solution for any data center manager, especially those new on the job who arent exactly sure which of the servers is hosting which application, and which people are using which application on certain servers.

Its also an ecologically- and economically-friendly solution: Just shut them off, he says.

"Yes, just shut all those mystery servers down if youre not sure what function they serve," Monroe, Sun Microsystems director of sustainable computing, said Sept. 18 during the Data Center World show here.

"Youll get an e-mail soon enough from the people who were using the server," he said. "Then you can just switch it back on, no problem. After about 90 days, if you dont get an e-mail or a phone call, then you know you dont need that server, and you should take it off the system."

Monroe said idle servers use nearly as much power draw as those that are active, power that is being wasted if the systems are left running while theyre not being used.

"This isnt rocket science," he said. "Its all about data: Understanding your facilities, figuring out what to fix, and figuring out how to fix it. Turn things on when you need them, turn them off when you dont. Easy first steps."


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Simply doing the shutdown drill as often as possible—automation software for this purpose is available from several companies, including Cassatt, Scalent Systems, Asigra, Onaroa and Hewlett-Packard—is the most effective way to save power and cooling costs, he said.

Data centers—especially those with large numbers of servers in racks—tend to morph over time, Monroe said. About 70 percent of all servers run only one application, Monroe said, and after a new system is added to an application, it usually is later not used at all or is redeployed elsewhere.

People who use that server then come and go, and eventually the application that runs on it becomes outdated. If the IT staff isnt paying attention, these boxes often continue to run, wasting power.

"When we started looking closely at our big data centers, we found that somewhere between 8 percent and 10 percent of our servers had no identifiable function," Monroe said. "There was no program running other than the operating system that we could tell."

He said Sun staff went through the asset databases and found these servers were basically orphans.

"So we turned them off and waited to see if anybody complained," Monroe said. "We shut them off and waited until we got an e-mail. Our success rate in turning those off is something higher than 60 percent."

Overall, he said, the Santa Clara, Calif., company discovered that 504 of its 4,300 servers could be turned off without impacting anybody.

Another easy way to save power and cooling costs over the long run is by turning the temperature up slightly in the center itself.

"You can save about 4 percent on cooling energy across the board by raising the thermostat just one degree," Monroe said. "Most data centers tend to set their temperatures anywhere from 68 to 72 degrees, and we find that about half of them are around 68 to 70. Servers—especially the new ones—can operate at much higher temperatures now; some can run well at 112 degrees. Now that might not be too comfortable for people to work in, but the point is this: Dont be afraid to turn up the thermostat a bit and save money."

Another money-saving idea that can be relatively easily implemented: Plugging holes in the walls, ceilings and floors of the data center to make sure no cool air is escaping.

A medium-term solution would be to rework sections of the center to include higher density machines, Monroe said.

Being vigilant about keeping a data center operating on as low power as necessary and load-balancing the application needs with available servers leads directly to savings on the organizations bottom line, and the sooner the better, Monroe said.

"The word is beginning to get around [about these hard-cost savings]," he said. "Id say that between 60 and 70 percent of our [Sun] customers are aware of this, but havent done anything about it yet; about 20 to 30 percent are already eco-aware and are running green data centers; and that about 5 to 10 percent are unaware or dont understand the significance."


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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...