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Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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The Cold, Green Facts

Buying energy-efficient technology isn't the only--or even the best--way to cut down on energy consumption in the data center. Rethinking the way you use the technology you already have can make a bigger impact.


History shows that corporate America doesn't take on initiatives that don't contribute to the bottom line, so the lack of government financial incentives means green had better stand on its own as a business practice. There has to be value, at the very least a little feel-good marketing, and a solid total-cost-of-ownership story is certainly preferred. For most green technologies, putting a real financial value on the expected benefit isn't too hard, but actually measuring the benefit across a data center--that's a different story.

The challenge starts with the electric bill. Most data centers are just a room in a dual-use building. Separating out data center power usage often isn't possible without retrofitting the room with sensors or installing a separate power meter. As a result, as an InformationWeek survey of 472 business technology pros confirms, almost no one in the IT organization is compensated based on saving energy, and only 22% of IT shops are responsible for managing power consumption. So while buying energy-efficient designs can reduce a system's TCO, in most organizations IT doesn't see the financial benefit.

Therefore, Job 1 is to get management to recognize and reward IT's efforts to save energy. Once that's done, a TCO calculation that includes power consumption is a lot more useful to IT. Beware, however, the dual-edged sword. Most organizations that charge back for utility usage simply divide the total utility bill by the square feet occupied. When properly burdened, IT could easily see its electric bill go up by an order of magnitude.

Even if you can't enlighten management to the benefits of saving power, there are plenty of reasons for IT organizations to think green. That's because doing so addresses other IT pain points. At a recent conference hosted by Hewlett-Packard, two competing statistics emerged. On one hand, HP maintains that more than half of existing data centers will become obsolete in a few years, but over the same period, it says some three-quarters will underutilize their floor space. The apparent conflict means that floor space is the wrong metric for assessing data center capability. As the density (as measured by power consumption per rack unit of space) of IT systems increases, power and sometimes cooling capacity are exhausted far more quickly than space, at least as data centers are now configured.

Our survey reinforces this point, as about half of respondents say they'll be remodeling their data centers or building new ones in the next two years. And as they remodel, they'll find their every assumption about data center design challenged. Here, we'll focus on the remodeling problem, because the greenest data center is the data center that's never built. Sure, the Googles and Amazon.coms of the world can build state-of-the-art facilities next to dammed rivers or geothermal vents, but for the rest of us, the environmentally responsible thing to do is to squeeze every last ounce of potential out of the data centers we have.

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