Greening the data centre – it’s not just about saving the environment

Pieter le Roux, Technical Director at Webcom gives us a his views on “greening” modern data centres.

May 26, 2011

Going green may be a growing trend when it comes to IT and the data centre, but the current driving factor behind greening the data centre is not about saving the environment. While this may be a nice fringe benefit, the reality is that companies are running out of space, power, or cooling, or a combination of these. This means that ‘green’ technology has evolved not only out of the need to manage energy, but the need to actually keep businesses running.

The evolution of data centres from mainframes in the past to the server rooms of today has always been about making data centres smaller, cooler and quieter, and this evolution has not changed. New, greener technology not only helps to conserve energy, it takes up less space, requires less cooling and enables organisations to do more with less, essentially solving the current problems facing the data centre. As a result of this, and of ever tightening IT budgets, organisations are looking towards these technologies and solution providers are continuously innovating products to meet this need.

One of the developments currently supporting the green data centre is smart servers and computers that hibernate processors when they are not in use.
This not only cuts down on energy usage, it also dramatically lowers cooling requirements, especially during off-peak times when server demand is low.
Instead of constantly running at full speed the machines can automatically switch into energy save mode, intelligently managing power usage according to demand.

Another innovation that has changed the data centre is the growing adoption of Solid State Drives (SSD), which uses far less energy than standard hard drives and requires significantly less cooling as a result. This combination of smart computers with more efficient storage is enabling better performance using less energy, and when used in conjunction with virtualisation can deliver highly efficient, space economical and powerful data centres for the modern business. However, faster adoption of SSDs is hindered by cost as it is still a new technology.

Virtualisation as a technology has supported greener, more efficient data centres, by enabling organisations to run multiple databases across multiple servers that deliver a ‘consolidated’ view of resources rather than dedicating individual servers per a database. Virtualisation reduces the need to upgrade or add hardware, again helping to conserve space and better manage cooling and energy requirements.

Aside from the hardware, other developments have taken place such as innovative rack design that allows for more efficient channelling of airflow to decrease heat, and blade servers have evolved to become more compact and efficient than ever. Looking outside of the data centre, there is a strong move towards cloud based storage and services as well as software on demand.
This lessens the burden on organisations’ own physical infrastructure by reducing requirements on the data centre.

As international pressure increases for IT to become more energy efficient, larger organisations in particular are beginning to look towards greener technology in the data centre. In Europe, there are plans in place to begin penalising and taxing companies that do not decrease their carbon emissions by a certain percentage, and while there is nothing of the sort currently in South Africa, this could become a reality for local businesses. This means that businesses will need to become more conscious of their requirements and energy usage if they are to remain competitive.

Making data centres more energy efficient is not necessarily just about technology. Organisations need to think smart and learn how to use existing resources to full advantage. New services do not necessarily require more servers, and part of conserving energy needs to include an understanding of current usage and where improvements can be made to fully leverage the existing infrastructure.

Energy management may not be the biggest driver behind the adoption of green technology currently, but in the future this will be a key differentiator.
As space becomes more constrained and demand for more efficient energy usage grows, data centres will become more environmentally friendly while at the same time saving organisations money and supporting ever-increasing volumes of data.

By Pieter le Roux, Technical Director at Webcom