Exploring deeper shades of green IT

CIO Forum reveals progress in green IT while underscoring the need for more resilient hardware and a successor to PUE

Although the buzz surrounding green tech has quieted significantly over the past couple of years, don't take that to mean the job is finished. Despite the significant innovations that have helped organizations boost the energy efficiency of their operations while reducing waste, there are still plenty of opportunities to raise the green bar.

Such was the clear takeaway from a Samsung-Dell sponsored CIO forum in Half Moon Bay, Calif., last week. Representatives from Dell, Samsung, VMware, Microsoft, Facebook, SAP, and other leading tech companies touted the cost-cutting advantages of embracing greener practices, particularly within the context of the big data explosion.

All those petabytes of Web content generated on a daily basis need to reside somewhere, ready to be pushed at a moment's notice to the increasing number of smartphones and other mobile devices flooding the market. All of that translates to more storage and processing, which in turn translates to higher capital and operating expenses for companies. The solution: green IT, which allows you to make more efficient use of IT by doing more with less.

Much of what was discussed at the forum covered fairly familiar green territory. In a nutshell, data center operators -- be they cloud service providers or enterprises -- need to take a holistic view of the data center to reap the benefits of green, from the silicon up to the facility itself. Install just the right amount of hardware necessary to perform the required amount of work. Use as little cooling as possible. Manage, monitor, and measure it all on an ongoing basis and look for areas that could use improvement. Easy, right?

Well, perhaps not easy, but easier, thanks in part to the products and innovations that tech vendors have designed and, increasingly, are baking into their products as standard features. Additionally, hardware vendors are pushing the limits of just how much heat servers can withstand.

In the perfect data center world, servers could sit in a shed sans any kind of air conditioning, relying on free outside air to stay sufficiently cooled. That vision may draw closer to reality: ASHRAE not long ago adjusted the recommended temperatures for operating servers; Dell recently announced an array of servers, storage, and networking equipment capable of operation in temperatures up to 113 degrees F; and vendors like Intel have conducted experiments to determine just how resilient servers can be.

Hardware vendors still have work to do, though, in creating gear to meet organizations' green needs. It remains common for Google and Facebook to use their own specially designed servers in their data centers, rather than going with off-the-shelf offerings from the server makers. Those companies have been quite open with their special server designs; for example, they both embrace techniques such as eliminating superfluous components. Facebook has gone so far as to place dual processors side by side on a motherboard, rather than one behind the other, because it improves airflow enough to make a difference.

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