Underutilized servers continue to plague the datacenter, taking up valuable space, cranking out heat, and devouring kilowatts while doing little to no work in return. (Replace "kilowatts" with "kibble," and the previous description can be applied to my parents' Garfield-esque cat Marmalade.)
Fortunately, advances in server and server-management technology are making it easier for datacenter operators to not only determine precisely how much and what type of work (if any) a server is doing but also to reduce the amount of power a server consumes when it's working or standing by for a new workload. Moreover, thanks to innovations in virtualization and cloud computing, the day may soon come when the prospect of powering down servers between uses won't send chills of terror through the spine of the IT admin.
First, let's recap the significance and costliness of underutilized servers. A study by McKinsey & Company titled "Revolutionizing Data Center Efficiency" found that among a total of 458 servers at four production datacenters, 32 percent (146 in all) were running at or below 3 percent utilization. Meanwhile, analysts estimate that more than 15 percent of the servers at an average company run 24/7 without being used actively on a daily basis. On top of that, research has found that servers burn more than half of their rated power while idling -- which in turn amps up the need for additional cooling, burning further power. Depending on the size of your datacenter, underutilized servers represent potentially thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted each month on power and cooling.
Servers: Prove your worth
One of the more interesting solutions to curbing server waste comes from 1E. The company recently released a Server Edition of NightWatchman, 1E's popular PC-power management product. Using a complex algorithm, NightWatchman SE employs agents to probe and determine whether a server is drawing energy to perform useful work -- for example, crunching data and fulfilling end-user requests -- or wasting energy on non-useful work, such as self-maintenance tasks that can be put on hold.