Rising Power Costs Fuel Drive for Energy Efficiency

Opinion: Customers and CIOs need to make power consumption part of the total cost of ownership for the IT infrastructure.

Yikes, can all that gasoline Im pumping into my old Subaru really be approaching $4 per gallon? And why do gasoline prices always spike near the start of the summer driving season? Its enough to make you think those big oil companies are controlling supply to fatten their bottom lines. And its enough to make you think participation in the national Bike-to-Work Week May 14-18 should be made mandatory for oil executives.

Those rising gasoline prices also serve as a good prompt for taking stock of high-tech-industry programs aimed at increasing energy efficiency in server rooms, decreasing energy consumption on laptops and desktops, and being a little wiser about how all those tech products are built in the first place. If progress is counted in small steps, the industry is moving ahead. If youre looking for a great leap forward in energy awareness, youd better look toward another industry.

Vendors seem to be leading the charge on this one. Of course, they see sales in replacing inefficient systems, but nonetheless there are compelling reasons for customers to consider recasting their IT operations. IBM last week in New York was the latest tech company to come out with a full-scale plan for energy efficiency, but Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other major vendors are talking up a green revolution in the server room. Organizations such as The Green Grid are advancing the cause by not only talking about energy efficiency but also holding the technical conferences and conducting the testing necessary to persuade a skeptical user base.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about the greening of the data center.

The user base does indeed appear skeptical. One study, conducted by Intel, contends that 80 percent of businesses have never performed an energy audit. At the same time, energy has moved from being a small part of the TCO (total cost of ownership) to a major cost for the servers and associated network routers and storage devices that make up the server room.

"Today, energy costs typically form less than 10 percent of an overall IT budget. However, this could rise to more than 50 percent in the next few years," said Gartner analyst Rakesh Kumar in a press release. "The bottom line is that the cost of power on this scale would be difficult to manage simply as a budget increase and most CIOs would struggle to justify the situation to company board members."

However, that TCO isnt something most users can easily view. There is no equivalent of gas-price-per-gallon signs to hang over server rooms. In fact, the cost of electricity to run those server rooms has not traditionally been part of the IT budget. Thats a mistake. And while vendors have been quick to tout component and system changes that reduce their energy consumption, much more work needs to be done on open standards that allow diverse systems to interconnect and produce easily accessible energy consumption reports.

Customers and CIOs need to get ahead of the curve here, conducting those energy audits and producing a plan to make power consumption part of the TCO for the IT infrastructure.

There is lots of online help for those planning to take the first energy audit step. Dell has a good tool for measuring power consumption in the data center at www.dell.com/html/us/products/rack_advisor/index.html; APC also offers a good data center planner at www.apc.com/tools/estimator. In addition, you should spend some time with your facilities manager and corporate accountant to try to figure out how much of your electricity costs can be attributed to your data center.

It might seem like a lot of work to determine your overall costs, and it might seem like a futile mission to get more spending dollars in an era of tight budgets, but a little effort now can help you avoid gas-pump-like sticker shock with your data center costs in the future.

/zimages/6/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.