Posts Tagged 'Green'

January 25, 2010

Convenience Kills?

Have you seen the new Brita commercials that have the girl running on the treadmill? The tag line says something like, “1 hour on the treadmill.” Then a new tagline appears right above a store bought water bottle and says, “in the landfill for life.” That is a telling commercial. Convenience kills our planet. Before bottled water we grabbed a glass or plastic cup, filled it up and drank it, washed it, then rinsed and repeated it. Nothing went to the landfill. Even further back, and I barely remember this one, my grandfather would walk my brother and I over to a tiny little drug store close to his house; and, we could get a Dr. Pepper from a soda fountain in a glass soda cup and drink it and leave the glass behind for the next customer. You got it—nothing in the landfill. The same goes for coffee now. Cup after cup from a drive through window and where do the cups go? The landfill. In the past, you had a mug to use again and again. Cell phones? Why, yes! They are culprits too. We used to simply use a wall phone and not have to worry about upgrading it every 2 years and getting a new battery once a year. We now fill landfills with phones, chargers, and wasted batteries. If you look closely at everything I have mentioned so far, they are all designed to make our lives more and more convenient.

 

With so many people using convenient things today, we at SoftLayer do the best we can to make things very convenient but also do our part for the globe. We only print things on paper when absolutely necessary. Not only do we save a tree, but it is much more secure. Everyone recently received a plastic cup with the SoftLayer logo on it for water or tea. We can use these instead of using so many disposable plastic cups. We have recycle bins in each break room for the recyclables; and, as we have stated in many blogs, we have contracts in place with recycling shops for the extra server packaging we receive with new shipments. We do our best to stick to the 3 R’s—reduce, reuse, and recycle.

So how does SoftLayer continue making our service so convenient without being wasteful? I am glad you asked! Instead of going out and buying home servers, or desktop servers—which seems to be the newest craze—and then having to throw away all the unused documentation and un-used packing materials, we simply choose to team up with Supermicro. They are a server manufacturer that listens to their customers needs and provides solutions as well as design flexibility, rapid order fulfillment, and superior quality. We are no longer relegated to do what the other server manufacturers force on other customers. This gives us the freedom of convenience while still being green. Does it make our competitors green with envy? Sure it does. That is why there are lower price points offered in the hosting market by our competitors still using workstations, desktop and home servers instead of enterprise class, high efficiency, and low power consuming servers. The efficiency of our servers allows us to have very dense server rooms with a smaller footprint, which saves on power consumption for cooling as well. Last but not least, by using rack mount servers instead of towers, Supermicro has worked with us to reduce the packing materials by 80%—resulting in an eight pound reduction in the total weight of each server.

At SoftLayer we take pride in making convenient, green IT; and with Supermicro as a great partner, we continue to do just that.

May 23, 2008

The Greening of IT: Beyond the Easy

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.

-SamF

February 5, 2008

A Look Back Before Moving Forward and the Phenomenon of "_aaS"

Hi! I'm George, one of the newest additions to the SoftLayer team. I joined the company for a few reasons:

  1. The People - one of the best teams that I have ever met, and now, have the pleasure of working with
  2. Vision - as someone recently said, how often do you get a chance for a "do over" without being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day?
  3. Industry - how cool is it to be able to play with new technology and help shape the way people will do business
  4. Acronyms and Buzzwords - as anyone that has worked in the telecom or technology industries can attest, this is the best place to be if you want to assemble new words based simply on the first letter of each.

Even before the Internet, (did that time really exist?), telecom hardware vendors, service providers and others in this little universe loved to create acronyms to make technology sound complicated. And of course, it created employment for thousands of people, which according to many of those techies, offered no real value, to help translate all of this into something that the consumer and investment community would buy... Welcome to the world of marketing in the Internet Age!

One thing that all of these people that came to be known as "Gurus" or an even buzzier buzzword - Evangelists - learned was to standardize on at least part of the acronym. Out of this concept was born:

  • _AN (G, L, M, S, W)
  • _EO (G, L, VL, S)
  • _DSL (H, A, S, V)
  • _SP (A, M, S)
  • _2_ (B2B, B2C, P2P, M2M)

And each of these led to spin-off acronyms, like DSLAM, FRAD, ATM (the network not the cash machine), and my favorite - BE - which said a lot about what we were all doing back then. Acronyms became the patents of the original dot.com era (which we did not actually call Web 1.0, but more on that later). Of course, we also learned different naming systems and adjusted the English language to suit this purpose. Capitalization rules were thrown out along with the baby and bathwater. Capitals now appeared in the middle of all company names (yes, we even did it here...) and products thanks to another phenomenon of the era - the mandatory use of compound words.

Best of all, the digital age gave birth to an industry designed to make all of us look like techies - the acronym dictionary. Many of the generation that graduated into the telecom and Internet revolution of the early 1990s (including yours truly) built careers on the ability to string acronyms together to define the future of networking and ultimately, life. The common toolkit for all of us: Newton's Telecom Dictionary and a fluffy cloud graphic from the MS Office clip art files - that was generally used by "advanced" gurus and not something to be thrown around by anyone with less than 12 months of experience in the dot.com trenches.

The web generation also taught the masses about versions and a fundamental rule in software: avoid buying version 1.0 and never launch a product called version 0. Even the web generation of telecom -mobile carriers - figured this one out. 3G has long been touted as the utopia of communications, but we had to get through 2.5G first. Never mind that v1 and v2 seemed to actually work. Thus, versioning took its rightful place at the left-hand of acronyms.
Jumping ahead a decade or so, we are now firmly in the grips of Web 2.0 and a new set of buzzwords and acronyms. If you don't have an avatar living on a virtual street in a virtual world that spends virtual time stuck in virtual traffic driving to a virtual job, you probably are like me - part of the 1.0 generation. I too used an Apple IIe in school, but for me it was grade 10, not grade 1! And then there was the Newton which did not exactly fit into a palm, but that story will have to wait...

Like all things, buzzwords and acronyms have evolved as well. We are now using words like "grid", "utility" and "always on" to reflect the way we are connected and work. And of course we all need to be Irish for more than 1 day per year. Don't get me wrong. SoftLayer agrees that green is good. We have turned our facilities green in search of the "green". Basically, we believe the best way to help our customers with access to technology on a real-time basis is by being as operationally efficient as possible. So, we have forced ourselves to be "green" in everything that we do. But, I digress...

My favorite current acronym root is "_aaS". We can thank the failure of ASP (part of Web 1.5) and its lesser known cousin - AIP - to catch on for this latest iteration. The good news is that almost everything that we can think of can be called an "X as a Service". Our internal top 10 list includes:

  • Architecture as a Service
  • Communication as a Service
  • Data Center as a Service
  • Hardware as a Service
  • Network as a Service
  • Platform as a Service
  • Software as a Service
  • Storage as a Service
  • Virtualization as a Service
  • Widgets as a Service (the favorite of our Starbucks fan)

But, don't take my word for it. Whatever as a Service will be hard to avoid. Now that I think of it, MaaS (Monster as a Service) might be a big money maker around here.

I know we would all like to see Service as a Service, but that may need to wait until Web 4.0 when we have all been virtualized. Personally, I can't wait to see what comes next. Given our place in the universe, I think that SoftLayer will have some influence and that's why I'm here...

-@gkdog

January 17, 2008

Whatever Happened to CEOs - Chief *Electricity* Officers

The power grids that we enjoy today did not magically appear as power generation developed during the Industrial Revolution. In 1902, according to the US Census, the country had 3,600 central systems and over 50,000 isolated power plants in large homes, hotels, and other commercial establishments. Thus, it’s a pretty safe bet that companies employed a fair amount of people who were tasked with “keeping the lights on.” For our purposes, we’ll call them the Chief Electricity Officers (CEOs).

This was the era before electricity was a utility. As we know, the power grid eventually encompassed the whole country and provided all needed electricity on tap. Once companies found that it was far more economical to plug into the grid than to generate their own power, the poor CEOs had to find other things to do in their organizations. Of course, industry regulation played a part here also, but the basic economics worked – with the grid in place, it was cheaper to buy power than do it yourself.

I see several parallels in this present Information Age. Many companies have Chief Information Officers and/or Chief Technology Officers. Part of what these folks are tasked with is IT infrastructure, i.e., acquiring the computing and networking gear required by the business and operating it in a redundantly powered and cooled data center. In most companies, IT is not the core competency of the business, yet they lay out a lot of capital expenditures and employ a lot of people for an overhead operation – much like what the old CEOs did with independent power generation.

SoftLayer and companies like us parallel the rollout of the power grid which began about a hundred years ago. In the coming years, companies will realize that the time, people, and capital expenditures required to locate data center space, find redundant power, set up backup power, install redundant HVAC systems, expend capital to acquire routers/switches/servers/storage systems/load balancers/firewalls/operating system software, and hire the people to run it all and upgrade everything every few years will be far too great a cost compared to “plugging in” to a provider such as SoftLayer. With Softlayer, IT infrastructure is our core competency. Companies need only give us a shout to instantly have IT infrastructure provided at far better economics than doing it themselves. They’re essentially “plugging in” to IT as a basic utility to be used to perform their core competency – just like they plug into the power receptacle to use electricity to help perform their core competency.

Hey, when Sun Microsystems says they’ll be out of data center operations by 2015, that raises our eyebrows around here. Dan Golding of Tier 1 research concurs that by 2015 “enterprise data centers will be in decline.” Once the business leaders of companies grasp the economics of halting their independent data center operations in favor of plugging in to utility providers, the CIOs and CTOs will have to do what the old CEOs did – find other ways to add value to their companies.

-Gary

October 19, 2007

A Well Designed Infrastructure Makes Everyone Green

As we all know there is an incredible amount of attention being paid to the “greening” of IT. Most people in the hosting industry regard this as the responsibility of the datacenter, as they can make the largest impact with their large-scale deployments of energy-efficient power supplies and processors, efficient physical layouts, cooling practices, and recycling.

Outside of the hosting industry the options become more varied—namely the ability to save massive amounts of power by turning off unneeded infrastructure during non-peak times. A great example would be a call center that operates 9-5 and shuts their workstations down when not in use, or an accounting firm that turns off their billing servers when they go home for the day. This is far from a common practice currently, but it is a very logical and easy step to conserving power. The gotcha here is that unless you can physically walk over to the infrastructure and power it back on, you are going to have to call someone to do it for you. Then wait for them to do it for you. Then hope that they don't forget. This leaves many businesses with infrastructure in an outsourced datacenter throwing their hands in the air, because it's frankly just too risky to not have their resources available at 9:00am when their day starts—might as well just leave everything on.

The story is a little different here at SoftLayer. Using our innovative network design and remote power control, our customers are redefining the way that IT is deployed in an outsourced datacenter. They run their web and mail servers here, pretty normal stuff. But utilizing the SSL to private backend network feature (allowing them to completely disable connectivity to the public network), they are also deploying their domain controllers here. And their office file servers. And their central servers to which their local thin clients connect. They are getting them out of the closet in the back of the office and into a datacenter on enterprise-grade hardware. And you know what they do at the end of the day? They turn them off. The next morning, a click on the power control in the SoftLayer Portal brings them instantly back online anytime, day or night. No phone call to support needed, no waiting for someone else to do it for you. The impact of technology designed to give you optimal control of your IT environment is staggering, especially when you see so many companies utilizing it.

So not only can you choose to deploy your operations in a datacenter that is making enormous strides in green infrastructure, but you can also deploy in one that provides you with the ability to control your own impact as well.

And just like that, everyone gets to be green. And sorry, envy doesn't count.

-Joshua

August 6, 2007

HostingCon 2007 / More Green

The SoftLayer contingency recently returned from attending HostingCon 2007 in Chicago and I have to say, it was a great experience. We had a lot of opportunities to meet up with many of our customers, meet with a lot of vendors and potential vendors as well as visit with some of our competitors.

While there, I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on "Green Hosting: Hope or Hype". Isabel Wang did a great job of moderating the discussion with Doug Johnson, Dallas Kashuba, and myself. The overall premise of the panel discussion was to talk about green initiatives, how they affect the hosting industry, what steps can hosting companies take and is it something we should be pursuing.

It was interesting to hear the different approaches that companies take to be green. Should companies focus their efforts on becoming carbon neutral by purchasing carbon credits such as DreamHost, by promising to plant a tree for each server purchased such as Dell, by working on virtualization strategies such as SWSoft or by working to eliminate the initial impact on the environment such as we have done at SoftLayer. You can probably tell from one of my previous blog posts where SoftLayer is focusing our efforts to help make a difference.

Besides the efforts of the individual companies on the panel, there were some good questions from the audience that helped spur the conversation. Does the hosting industry need its own organization for self regulation or are entities such as The Green Grid sufficient? Do any of the hosting industry customers really care if a company is "green"? Should a hosting company care if it’s "green"? And, what exactly does "being green" mean?

While there are differing opinions to all of those questions, there really isn't a "wrong" answer. Ultimately all of the steps companies take - no matter how small - will help to some extent. And no matter what the motivation - whether a company is "being green" in an effort to gain publicity, to save money or to simply "make a difference" - it's all worth it in the end.

-SamF

June 12, 2007

Being Green

For so many years growing up, I heard the "Sam I Am" / "Green Eggs and Ham" comments when being introduced to other kids. At this point, you would think I would hate the color green. On the contrary - being green is good.

One of the biggest costs in a datacenter is power, and if you're involved in datacenter operations you get to experience first hand the challenges of juggling power, cooling and floor space availability. If you use less power, your electrical costs go down and your cooling costs go down and there is a ripple affect across the entire facility. In an effort to reach that goal, we do everything we can to hone down the power requirements of our servers. We start by using 240v circuits to the rack. Doing so eliminates the need to step down to 110v which is much more efficient and it helps eliminate harmonic feedback in the circuit. Add to that “less heat” which means less wear and tear on the servers and that is a good first step.

Once you get power to the server, it helps to spec your servers properly. A properly sized power supply can save more than 25 Watts per server. When you multiply that by just 1,000 servers, that's a cool 25kW of power savings. When you multiply that by the number of servers in our facilities? Well, it's certainly worth the exercise of making sure we are ordering the proper equipment.

Aside from server equipment and datacenter power, SoftLayer has recently joined the Green Grid (more info). We are looking to use that association to join the likes of AMD, Intel, Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and many more to help reduce overall power consumption by datacenters. There are many lessons yet to be learned by IT companies to help reach that goal.

Being green is not confined to datacenter facilities. On SoftLayer Truck Day, we receive hundreds of cardboard boxes. Rather than just throwing those all away, we work with a local vendor to make sure the cardboard and packaging materials inside get recycled. Each server comes with various parts that are not needed (it's cheaper for the vendor to just ship the servers with all misc parts than it is to strip specific parts from specific orders). It would be easiest to just deposit all of those unneeded parts into a dumpster, but being green means doing more than just whatever is easiest. We sort spare power cords and recycle those for the copper. We sort screws and sell them to a local vendor (and use the money to buy Monster). Any spare part that we have not found a specific destination for, gets donated to a group that sells the parts and makes donations to charities.

Being green not only makes good financial sense, but it also makes good ecological sense. And – it keeps us stocked with Monster.

-SamF

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