Aaron Rallo is the founder and CEO of TSO Logic. Aaron has spent the last 15 years building and managing large-scale transactional solutions for online retailers, with both hands-on and C-level responsibility in data centers around the world.
The word “holistic” comes up frequently in the data center industry, with industry leaders and trade publications urging operators to take a more comprehensive view in their journey to improve energy efficiency.
This idea has been leading to some significant advances in energy efficiency at the facility level: better cooling systems, power distribution units, universal power supplies, backup power generation, and so on. These kinds of advances have undoubtedly had a positive impact on energy waste at datacenters. In fact, the average Power Usage Effectiveness [PUE] in the industry dropped from 2.7 in 2007 to 1.65 in 2013.
Even so, this facilities-centric approach has fostered one very large blind spot, stopping short of a truly holistic view of the data center. The reality of the situation is that there is an equally large opportunity to improve efficiency on the IT side itself, but this has been largely overlooked.
Perhaps you’re thinking that IT energy consumption is simply tied to the size of the data center, and is otherwise set in stone. If you can’t imagine that IT equipment actually consumes a lot of energy unnecessarily, take a look at some of these numbers:
- 52 percent or more of the power coming into a datacenter is used directly by IT equipment.
- Server utilization rates are typically very low, currently averaging in the 6–12 percent range.
- An idle server that is doing nothing at all can still draw 60 percent of its maximum power.
- One watt of power saved at the server level can generate as much as 2.84 watts of savings along the entire datacenter power chain.
Relatively speaking, a single server may not use much energy. But multiply this small amount by thousands or tens of thousands of servers, and it’s clear that that a considerable portion of the energy drawn by data centers is simply being wasted on powering and supporting idle servers. That’s a very valuable opportunity to reduce energy consumption and operating costs.
Compounding this waste is the fact that individual servers are growing more power hungry. The International Data Corporation (IDC) reports that energy consumption per server is actually rising by an average of nine percent annually. (Of course, the computing power of each server is growing at the same time, but since data demand continues to explode, the absolute number of servers just keeps growing too.)
With all of this in mind, it’s imperative that data centers look at both the facility and the IT infrastructure when they track their energy performance—that is, if they want to remain competitive.
On the Cusp of Change
The good news is that major change is already starting to happen in the industry, in large part due to the introduction and increasing acceptance of software tools that allow for a deeper understanding of datacenter energy consumption. Although these software solutions cover a wide gamut of types and capabilities, the general emphasis is on detailed, real-time measurement and monitoring, opening the door for improved understanding and finer-grained control.
Still, the majority of these software tools focus primarily on the facilities side of the equation. To finally start addressing the IT side, a whole new breed of software technology called application-aware power management (AAPM) is gaining traction. AAPM solutions monitor a datacenter’s current and incoming workload at the server and application level, allowing for dynamic control of the power state of individual servers in direct response to application demand. As a result, much less power is wasted on servers that aren’t performing any real work, without any infrastructure changes or negative impact on performance.
Application-aware power management also provides deep visibility into power usage and workload across individual servers and applications, allowing datacenters to identify outdated or underutilized servers and base their capacity planning on detailed metrics. In effect, it gives datacenters the power to become more strategic when selecting where, when, and how to make capital expenditures that improve performance and increase overall datacenter capacity.
Savings on server energy consumption alone can add up to a great deal of money. Even for a relatively small data center with 1,500 servers, direct savings can amount to more than $1,000,000 over five years. Of course, as noted above, these direct savings then cascade across the entire data center power chain, since less energy is also wasted on cooling, power distribution, and other infrastructure support for servers that aren’t doing real work.
Obviously, with that kind of savings potential, it’s not normally too difficult to make a business case for capital expenditures on software.
Thinking about the enterprise
Although we’ve focused here on the IT “blind spot,” there’s one other aspect of datacenter operations that should also be included in a truly holistic approach to improving efficiency. That is the enterprise that actually relies on the datacenter, including the decision makers at the highest levels of an organization.
Historically, there has been a gap between the operations side of a datacenter and the business side, particularly when it comes to the CFO and other executives. In a typical scenario, operations builds out the datacenter to meet quality of service requirements, and the business side pays the bills—no questions asked. This has become unsustainable. Faced with the astonishing growth in demand for datacenter capacity, coupled with rising energy rates and a challenging economy, many executives are starting to explore their options.
Fortunately, with software-based power management tools, business leaders can get the answers they need to forecast growth, plan capacity and capital expenditures, and control operational costs more strategically. Equipped with deeper insights, executives can better understand the relationship between data center costs and revenue. Which applications have the best margins? What are the true costs per transaction or customer served? What is the most profitable way forward?
A data-driven view of the full data center ecosystem helps a company to strategically align its revenue generation, data center performance, energy efficiency and sustainability goals, so that everyone is working toward the same overarching business objectives. With accessible, timely and detailed metrics, all of the organizational gaps can be bridged. This is the kind of truly holistic approach that provides a competitive and sustainable way forward in the face of never-ending data growth.
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