Six lessons learned at the Uptime Green Enterprise Computing Symposium

"Green = efficiency = savings" was a recurring theme at this year's Uptime Institute Green Enterprise Computing Symposium in Orlando, Fla. It's a simple message, to be sure, but it gets right to the heart of the case for pursuing greener practices in the datacenter: Cutting waste does indeed mean that you're spending less money on purchases and upkeep; that you're making better use of what you've got; and that y

"Green = efficiency = savings" was a recurring theme at this year's Uptime Institute Green Enterprise Computing Symposium in Orlando, Fla. It's a simple message, to be sure, but it gets right to the heart of the case for pursuing greener practices in the datacenter: Cutting waste does indeed mean that you're spending less money on purchases and upkeep; that you're making better use of what you've got; and that you're reducing your organization's environmental impact in the process.

Grasping that concept isn't too difficult. The real challenge, one shared by the 400-plus attendees at the symposium, remains figuring out how to get from inefficient Point A to efficient Point Green. If only there were a plug-and-play box you could install in the datacenter (The Green-o-matic 3000) to magically optimize cooling, boost server utilization to 99 percent, track down zombie machines, and reduce the facility's carbon footprint to zero. Alas, none of the vendors at the symposium announced anything like that, so attendees will instead have to rely on some of the lessons gleaned from the event.

1. Measure something. If you're an Olympic athlete striving to shave seconds from your time, a stopwatch is a critical tool. Otherwise, how will you know what your best time is and whether you've managed to beat it?

Same goes for an IT admin working to bring greater efficiency to the datacenter. In order to get a sense of how efficient (or inefficient) you are to begin with, as well as to gauge the impact of implementing different strategies, you need to measure, measure, measure.

That, of course, leads to a key question: What do I measure? Well, PUE or DCIE are good places to start. Those are metrics devised by The Green Grid, intended to give organizations a sense of how much energy being consumed in the datacenter is making it into IT equipment to do actual work, as opposed to the those watts being consumed for power conversion, cooling, and other non-productive tasks.

2. Make sure every machine running has a purpose. Plenty of companies have reaped green benefits of combing the datacenter for servers that are providing no obvious benefit yet remain plugged in, drawing valuable watts and space. Periodic walks through the datacenter can help track down those machines -- but some organizations are taking it a step further.

At some companies, someone in IT will periodically track down users or department heads and ask them to justify the servers and other IT equipment they use. Some organizations, such as Microsoft, take it a step further by charging departments on a very granular level for the IT resources they use. The company says this approach has resulted in users being more proactive in reducing consumption, since there's an obvious reward -- more money in their budget -- for doing so.

3. Grab the low-hanging facilities fruit. Forty percent of the cooling fans in a computer room are operating because of gross mismanagement or inadequate containment of cooling air, according to Uptime, and much of that waste can be addressed easily with some standard best practices. Among them: plugging holes, adjusting temperatures, and eliminating hot spots. (For more on beating the datacenter heat, cheap, go here.)


4. Get the C-level execs involved.
Last week, I wrote about how getting end-users involved in your greening process is essential. The fact of the matter is, a company-wide green computing effort becomes a whole lot easier and potentially successful when you have buy-in from CXOs. The question is, how do you get the CEO or CFO to care whether your datacenter becomes greener?

For starters, demonstrating how "green = efficiency = savings" can help. Telling a CXO, "We can reduce our carbon footprint by 20 percent and our annual energy costs by $500,000 if we do this" makes for a compelling double-whammy argument, hitting on the bottom line benefits as well as the increasingly valuable CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts that are attracting more investors and customers.

Dashboards depicting energy usage and savings over time (see No. 1) can also help make your ongoing case. Being able to point to a chart and show a significant drop in power waste after installing a new CRAC system or implementing a virtualization project, for example, can pave the way for funding approval for future green efforts.

5. Put virtualization on the table. As with most technologies, there are caveats to virtualization: It's not for everyone, and it's certainly not easy to implement. That all said, though, virtualization was among the favored technologies discussed at the Uptime Symposium, because it can potentially jettison or reassign a huge chunk of your organization's hardware.

As reported by InfoWorld Site Editor Tom Kaneshige, "IBM started moving the workload of its 3,900 servers to 30 virtualized System z9 mainframes running Linux. Big Blue expects to cut energy consumption by 80 percent, or more than $2 million in energy costs. Meanwhile, NetApp consolidated 343 servers to 177 via virtualization and replaced 50 storage systems with 10 new ones."

[For more on the challenges and benefits of virtualization, see "Virtualization's dirty little secrets"]

6. Consider outsourcing.
Ponder the potential benefits of offloading all or some of your energy-consuming IT needs to a third party. It's entirely possible that an outside provider can offer service less expensively and more efficiently than you can manage.

For example, instead of hosting your own e-mail servers, what if you turned to a service such as Gmail or a hosted version of Exchange? Instead of investing in more storage gear, how about looking at a service such as Amazon S3? You can keep climbing up the ladder here, going so far as to outsource nearly all of your datacenter needs to a third party.

These were but a sampling of lessons and themes from the Uptime Green Enterprise Computing Symposium. I aim to hone in on other topics such as AC vs. DC and "datacenters in boxes" in future posts.

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