The growth in energy demanded by, and used in, IT environments is a well documented phenomenon. Datacenters are using more energy as CPUs get faster, hard drives become larger, and end user demand for access to data and applications continues to increase. Prices for the underlying hardware and services continue to fall, which just fuels more demand.
Datacenter operators have done their best to maximize the use of every available asset within a facility in order to operate highly efficient environments. Much of the emphasis to date has been on proper datacenter alignment: hot-aisle/cold-aisle configurations, blanking panels to cover gaps in server racks, and sealing holes under raised floors to better contain cold air have become common place in the data center.
However, in most large organizations, there many areas that needs more attention. Departments within a large company often have competing goals that negate green IT efforts. One example of this would be –
- The system administrators and developers want the biggest, fastest machines they can get with the most expandability. This enables them to add memory or hard drives as utilization increases – which makes their jobs much easier to perform and helps them better maintain customer SLAs.
- Purchasing (and finance) department’s primary goal is to save money. The focus is to work with the vendors to reduce the overall hardware cost.
The disconnect between those two departments will often leave the datacenter manager out in the heat (definitely not “out in the cold”). That person’s job essentially becomes “just find a place to put it” until the datacenter is full enough that the answer becomes “no more”. It then becomes a “fix it now” problem as the company struggles with plans to build more datacenter space. So, the problem is a short term view (meeting quarterly earnings results) versus long term direction (to achieve a sustainable and efficient operations environment that may have a short term cost implication).
What should happen is that the disparate groups need to work together throughout the entire planning process. The purchasing department, the system administrators, developers, and the datacenter managers should build a common plan and set realistic expectations in order to optimize the IT infrastructure required and to best meet business, operations, and efficiency objectives.
Let’s continue the example from above… if a server is ordered just because it’s more expandable (more expansion slots, RAM slots and hard drive bays), that means that the power supply has to be bigger to support the potential need of those future components. A server power supply is most efficient (wastes the least amount of power doing the conversion) when it is running at 80-90% load. If a power supply is over sized to support potential future needs, then it is operating at a much lower efficiency than it should – thus generating more heat, wasting more power and requiring more cooling, which in turn requires more power to run the AC’s.
That might seem like a small price to pay for expandability, but when that scenario is multiplied over an entire datacenter, the scope of the problem becomes very significant. This could lead to lost efficiency of well over 20% as a business plans and buys ahead of demand for the computing capacity it may need in the future.
So, what is the other option? Is purchasing right? Should IT simply buy a small server, at a lower total cost, and scale as the business scales? The problem with this is that it tends to lead to exponential growth in all aspects of IT – more racks to house smaller servers, additional disks, more space and power over time, increased obsolescence of components, and more lost efficiency.
The problem is considerably more complex than both options. The simple fact is that the “fixes” for IT go well beyond implementing a hot-aisle cold-aisle layout and sealing up holes under the raised floor of the datacenter. Now that those things have become “best practices,” it’s time to start highlighting all of the other things that can be done to help improve energy efficiency.
At SoftLayer, we promote an energy efficient focus across the entire company. Datacenter best practices are implemented in all of the datacenter facilities we occupy; we use hot-aisle cold-aisle configurations, we use blanking panels, we use 208v power to the server, we pay very close attention to energy efficient components such as power supplies, hard drives and of course CPUs, and we recycle whatever we can.
Most importantly, we deliver a highly flexible solution that allows customers to scale their businesses as they grow – they do not need to over buy or under buy, since we will simply “re-use” the server for the next customer that needs it. Individually, the energy savings from each of these might be fairly small. But, when multiplied across thousands and thousands of servers and multiple datacenters – these many small things become one large thing quickly – a huge savings in energy consumption over a traditional IT environment.
Ultimately, SoftLayer believes that we can never be satisfied with our efforts. As soon as one set of ideas becomes common place or best practices, we need to be looking for the next round of improvements. And bring those new ideas and practices forward so all can benefit.