Green Data Centers Hold the Key to Better Enterprise Infrastructure

For IT departments looking to cut down on costs and complex infrastructures, green data centers and technologies offer a good return on investment.

Enterprises and companies of all sizes are always on the lookout for ways to decrease their energy consumption, whether it's to save money during budget-crunch time, to streamline and create a more efficient infrastructure, or simply a desire to operate a green environment.

The question then for IT managers who are considering these types of projects is where to begin? A good place to focus these efforts is the data center, one of the biggest energy hogs in organizations.

If an enterprise or even a small business is looking for justification for this type of change, there is much evidence to support at least considering a greener data center.

For example, a report issued in September by London-based research firm DatacenterDynamics shows that data centers around the world are expected to use 19 percent more energy in the coming 12 months than they had in the previous year.

In addition, more than one-third of companies say they expect at least one of their data centers to run out of power, cooling or space sometime within the next year, according to an Uptime Institute report that surveyed 525 data center owners and operators in the United States, Europe and Asia.

The Aberdeen Group has surveyed thousands of organizations worldwide in the past 12 months, and the research shows that enterprise technology decision makers are preparing for an enormous increase in the pace of data growth, as well as the variety of data services that will be required to manage that growth, said Russell Klein, an analyst with the Boston-based research firm.

Regardless of whether the actual physical IT components are located on-premise or hosted by a cloud computing services provider, the company is still paying for the infrastructure, said Klein. As a result, all businesses-large and small-should be concerned about controlling data center costs, including energy consumption.

Fortunately, enterprises and other organizations can take steps to reduce data center energy bills. One way to reduce power is by using more energy-efficient equipment, such as blade servers, and housing the equipment in more eco-friendly facilities.

For example, Earth Rangers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating children about green practices, transformed its data center in part by deploying blade servers. Earth Rangers, based in Woodbridge, Ontario, also adopted continuous data protection software, which allows full restoration of data and services from one site to another within minutes of a disaster. By using this software instead of traditional tape, the organization avoids burning fossil fuels to truck tape libraries off-site.

The data center is housed in the Earth Rangers Centre, a showcase of sustainable technology that the organization says uses 80 percent less energy than traditional buildings its size. In addition, the facility incorporates an eco-efficient green roof.

"Everything we do has an impact on the environment," said Rob DiStefano, IT systems manager at Earth Rangers. "We've created a demonstration site for other organizations to see what is possible with a small footprint by virtualizing and saving energy. A lot of companies are starting to do this because of the cost savings and the reduced green footprint."

Another big energy saver is server and storage virtualization, which many organizations have adopted as part of their server-consolidation efforts.

In Sugar Land, Texas, Imperial Sugar began a virtualization project about five years ago, partly to reduce the number of its physical servers. As a result, the company slashed the number of servers from 131 to 96 and decreased data center capital spending by about 45 percent a year.

As part of the effort, Imperial Sugar also replaced some older servers with more energy-efficient blades, which helped decrease electricity and cooling costs.

Many organizations are turning to cloud computing services to reduce their reliance on internal servers. This can also contribute to lower energy consumption. Imperial Sugar started migrating some select applications, such as training and predictive maintenance systems, to public cloud services. This helped the company further reduce its reliance on internal servers.

Another way to potentially reduce data center energy use is to adopt energy management systems that deploy tracking and sensor technology, such as radio frequency identification (RFID), to monitor conditions, such as temperature and air pressure.

"RFID-enabled energy monitoring and management systems take advantage of new server and storage virtualization technologies," said Klein.

"These infrastructure management platforms are sophisticated in distributing workload, -spinning down' unneeded resources and leveraging predictive analytics to optimize load-balancing activities," Klein added."What those systems lack is accurate, real-time data streams to feed the analytics engine. RFID monitoring provides that data."

It is likely more companies will implement these and other methods of reducing power consumption in the data center as they look for ways to run more energy-efficient IT operations, save money and build better infrastructures.