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

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Beyond sharing the secrets of their green servers, the two companies have been quite open about their respective data center designs, too. Facebook has gone so far as to launch the Open Compute Project, through which it has published its own data center specs for the greater good.

Proponents of green IT point to other challenges that the industry continues to face in boosting energy efficiency in the data center. For starters, according to the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, organizations are failing to taking full advantage of power-management features in desktop computers and servers. The latter particularly is a challenge, as data center operators are loathe to power down servers when they're not in use for fear that they won't wake up quickly enough (if at all). Solving that dilemma likely requires software and hardware vendors to better collaborate on reliable solutions while convincing admins that powering down servers isn't necessarily as risky as they might fear.

Further, many companies have yet to take full advantage of virtualization, which is proving itself time and again a key technology to enable companies not only consolidate their infrastructure but also to boost server utilization, which is traditionally pathetically low.

The tech industry is also working to come up with a better metric than PUE for gauging data center efficiency. PUE compares how much energy a data center consumes as a whole (powering IT equipment as well as for nonproductive tasks such as cooling, lighting, and watts lost to conversions) to how much the facility uses for just powering its IT equipment. A PUE of 2.0 would mean that for every two watts at the meter, only one watt gets to the IT hardware, for example; a PUE of 1.0 -- the lowest possible -- means that every watt a data center consumes goes toward powering IT equipment.

The problem with PUE: It doesn't always provide a fully accurate picture of a data center's efficiency or inefficiency. For example, if a data center's servers are cooled at the rack level instead of with full-room or aisle-by-aisle CRAC units, the PUE doesn't penalize the facility for the watts "wasted" on cooling.

That's not to say that PUE is going away anytime soon, as it still has value. A data center operator could gauge the general progress of various green technologies and practices by measuring PUE on a regular basis. (Google, for example, does just that.)

But the ideal metric would allow a data center operator to measure performance per watt, or performance per watt per dollar, to gauge just how much bang a facility is getting for its buck. The challenge is coming up with a meaningful, universal way to measure data center (or IT equipment) performance. A data center for a lightweight search engine, for example, could be just as efficient as one for heavy-duty financial crunching -- but the former would have far more transactions per minute. Think in terms of MPG for vehicles. A hybrid sedan has a higher MPG rating than an SUV, but it's not an apt comparison if you don't know how the vehicle is being used: carpooling on the freeway to work or hauling heavy equipment off-road?

This article, "Exploring deeper shades of green IT," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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