New Approaches to Greening the Data Centre

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Written By: Gerry Brown
Published: 11th March, 2009
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

There's no shortage of talk on Green IT these days. The 'Green IT World' at the recent CeBIT 2009 show at Hannover in Germany filled almost an entire hall and featured big names like IBM, Fujitsu Siemens, Nokia, and Toshiba. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger made an appearance to promote Californian companies selling Green IT products and services. In recent weeks at least 3 new books have been published on Green IT, one of which catalogues John Lewis' approach to Green IT.

So why the sudden interest in Green IT? It must be the outrageous CO2 emissions of computers, right? Well not exactly. Depending on whose figures you use, IT CO2 emissions are between 2% and 4% of total CO2 emissions and in terms of emissions the IT industry is commonly equated (unfavourably) with the aerospace industry.

However, McKinsey reckons that the IT industry doesn't even make the Top 10 of bad boy polluting industries (headed by a large margin by the Chemicals industry), and the UK doesn't make the top 10 of polluting countries. In fact, the UK is fast emerging as the favorite child that deserves an apple. In a recent list of the Top 100 sustainable enterprises in the world, the UK boasts 17 entries.

Even still, there is pressure all round to work hard on ‘Greening the enterprise' given the context of Tony Blair's somewhat macho promise to reduce greenhouse gases by 60% by 2050 as set out in the Climate Change Bill.

The truth is that IT is an easy target. When corporate executives, concerned with rising electricity costs, and keen to support Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives ask "where do we use lots of electricity and produce lots of CO2 emissions?" the first answer they are likely to receive is "the data centres".

Most data centres are currently under pressure to reduce costs and to sweat existing hardware assets. So even though vendors like IBM and HP have introduced environmentally-friendly green servers that can in some cases reduce electricity costs and emissions by 80%, the recent sales figures from the vendors imply they are not selling in the volumes required. Capital hardware investments in data centres are not on high on the list of priorities in the current economic climate.

Another angle to think about might be to look at your data warehousing engines. The latest high performance data warehouses offer the ability to compress data by up to 80%. With less data to manage you can rationalize and consolidate both the data and the servers in the data centre for greater manageability and a vastly reduced carbon footprint. This is especially powerful when combined with a virtualization strategy allowing multiple applications and operating systems to be housed within a single data warehousing instance.

Traditionally unwieldy and expensive data warehouses are being replaced with a new generation of fast, agile, cost-effective, and green-friendly systems. Such systems allow for fast loading of data, petabyte-level storage capacity, low latency response to user queries, and are scalable to 100s if not 1000s of concurrent users. Particularly if you are looking for a vehicle to enable widespread use of BI, this is an attractive proposition.

Data centres and enterprises in general have to some degree in the past been guilty of hedonistic excesses in deploying new servers in their quest to serve user and compliance demands for greater data storage and data accessibility. According to IBM, some organisations now have in excess of 5,000 servers! As enterprises seek to rationalize and consolidate these servers, improve their services to users, and to reduce their electricity costs and CO2 emissions; the new greener data warehousing market may yet be the beneficiary.

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