Datacenter power crunch

Soaring energy costs are fueling server consolidation and systems virtualization

If you watch the nightly news, it’s hard to miss the relentless coverage about rising energy prices and the “pain at the pump.” Occasionally they’ll mention how oil companies are working to add refinery capacity or improve efficiency. Basically, it’s a simple story of supply and demand, and old habits die hard.

  In the IT world, the impact of rising energy costs is even more interesting. It’s not just forcing a reduction in power consumption per unit of capacity (the MPG thing), it’s throwing lighter fluid on other, more disruptive trends, such as virtualization, that were under way even back when oil was $20 a barrel.

AMD recently commissioned a survey of 1,200 IT organizations on “Power Consumption and Cooling in the Datacenter.”. The core finding is that enterprises are all over the map on how they’re addressing rising costs and power consumption. “While 44 percent were able to supply more power to the datacenter, 27 percent chose to consolidate servers,” the report notes, “25 percent reorganized their servers into hot-aisle/cool-aisle configurations, and 23 percent increased the size of their datacenters.”

What the study doesn’t say is that despite the push for lower-power CPUs and more efficient configurations (blades and SANs and such), the biggest impact of rising energy costs is that it accelerates the virtualization tsunami. And the most meaningful impact of this acceleration may be more manageability and flexibility.

A couple of years ago, hardware utilization was driving the virtualization train. Now, however, hardware’s inexpensive compared with the cost of the juice to keep it running and the people to swap it in and out when it fails. So if oil stays near $70 a barrel, and refresh rates on datacenter gear stay in the sub five-year range, you can bet that datacenters will be completely virtualized and hyper-efficient in a couple years. Wish I could say the same for my car.

Incidentally, some vendors have formed something called the Green Grid, dedicated to lowering datacenter power consumption. Founding sponsors include AMD, Cadence Design Systems, Dell, Egenera, HP, IBM, Rackable Systems, Sun Microsystems, and VMware. Nice Web site, a few relevant articles … I assume this is mostly a PR opportunity. But as they say, always be selling, even (especially) when you’re a do-gooder.

There’s also a lot of talk about cost-per-click, the performance ad revenue model that Google pioneered. Why can’t they figure out a way to display cost-per click in terms of the energy efficiency of the gear that’s serving up the page or app? For example: Power cost for serving this column was 5 cents (but you only got 2 cents worth of opinion). Then we could all avoid the real energy hog Web sites, driving costs down even faster.