The Green Gap - Addressing Environmental & Economic Sustainability

Several technologies that can be used to enable a green and efficient virtual data center to support and sustain business growth exist now, and others are emerging

March 4, 2009

6 Min Read
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The second in a series. Greg Schulz is the founder of StorageIO and the author of The Green and Virtual Data Center.

To say that "green" is a popular trend is an understatement. Green messaging in general and in the IT industry in particular tends to center around carbon footprint and emissions reduction or cost savings. Green is also being seen or talked about as being dead or falling off in importance and relevance.

While green hype and "green washing" may be falling out of favor or appearing on an endangered species list, addressing core IT data center issues that affect how resources are used to deliver information services in an energy-efficient, environmentally and economically friendly manner to boost efficiency and productivity is here to stay. There are many different aspects to actually being green as opposed to being perceived as being green. If, however, you listen closely, you might also hear mention of other topics and issues, including buzzwords such as RoHS (restriction of hazardous substances), REACH (registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemical substances), WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment), LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design), J-MOSS (labeling that's required for electrical and electronic products containing specific chemical substances), energy avoidance, and energy efficiency.

Common questions about green and IT include:

  • Is green a consumer or enterprise public relations, science, or apolitical topic?

  • Why are so few organizations going green with their business and IT organizations?

  • Is green only an issue for large organizations that consume large amounts of energy?

  • Is being green simply about reducing emissions or is it a new marketing tool?

  • Is green only about cost savings?

  • Is being green an inconvenient truth for IT organizations or vendors?

  • Is green only about reducing energy emissions and carbon footprint?

  • How do recycling and removal of hazardous substances fit into green themes?

  • Is virtualization applicable only for server, storage, or network consolidation?

  • Can existing IT environments transform in place to green and virtualized?

  • What are the economic benefits of going green? What about the risks of doing nothing?IT data centers around the world are faced with various power, cooling, floor space, and associated environmental (PCFE) health and safety issues while working to support growth without disrupting quality of service. IT infrastructure resources configured and deployed in a highly virtualized manner can be combined with other techniques and technologies to achieve simplified and cost-effective delivery of IT services to meet application service levels in an environmentally friendly and economical manner.

    When I ask IT personnel in the United States about green initiatives in their organizations, the response tends to indicate that about 5 percent to 10 percent of IT organizations have a green initiative, need, or mandate. However, the main response I find -- in the 75 percent to 85 percent range -- is centered on limits, constraints, or reliable availability of electrical power, or limits on cooling capacities and floor space.

    Outside the United States, it is more common to hear about green initiatives in IT organizations, particularly when talking to people in Europe and parts of Asia where government mandates are either in place or being put into place. In the United States, and North America in general, such mandates are fragmented and confusing, and established on a state-by-state or regional basis.

    At the heart of the growing "green virtual gap" is messaging by the industry, or lack thereof, and the need for more awareness of IT organization core issues in different parts of the world or even different parts of the United States. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about the environment, but it is also concerned about IT data centers having reliable flow and use of electricity. Hence, while Energy Star programs are about energy conservation and improved efficiency, they are also a means to help demand-side management. That is, the goal is to help ensure that demand for power will not outpace supply (generation and transmission), given the dense power requirements of IT data centers or information factories.

    Several technologies that can be used in complementary ways to enable a green and efficient virtual data center to support and sustain business growth exist now, and others are emerging. Here are some topics, technologies, and techniques that should be considered when thinking about going green: energy and cost reduction; cloud-based storage and computing; managed services; intelligent power management and adaptive power management; blade centers and blade servers; server, storage, and networking virtualization; data footprint reduction including archiving, compression, and data de-duplication; tiered servers; storage, network, and data centers; energy and environmentally friendly infrastructure resource management; and energy avoidance and energy efficiency; among others.As the industry adjusts its messaging to the core needs of IT data centers in different geographies to address real issues of power, cooling, and floor space beyond basic cost reduction or power avoidance, there will be more success on the part of both vendors and IT organizations. Beyond being green, by enabling IT centers to do more with what they have (or even less), growth, performance and service levels will be boosted, enabling improved efficiency and productivity while addressing both economic and environmental concerns.

    IT purchasing, facilities, server, storage, networking, backup and data protection specialists, database administrators, and applications analysts, systems and storage administrators, and IT architects should be aware of the many different faces of green and how to leverage green and economic capabilities to enable business sustainability. Other audiences that need to be aware of the green gap and how to close it include manufacturers and solution partners, sales, marketing, support, and engineering organizations, as well as public relations, investment communities, and media professionals associated with IT technologies and services.

    Addressing core IT data center issues to enable more efficient and productive IT service delivery by information factories in an economical friendly manner will also lead to environmental benefits. Addressing green and PCFE issues is a process -- there is no one single solution or magic formula. Rather, a combination of technologies, techniques, and best practices to address various issues and requirements is needed. Green washing and green hype may fade away, but PCFE and related issues will not, so addressing them is essential to IT, business growth, and economic sustainability in an environmentally friendly manner, which enables shifting from talking about green to being green.

    Greg Schulz is the founder of StorageIO, an IT industry research and consulting firm. He has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and capacity planner for various IT organizations, and also has held positions with industry vendors. He is author of the new book The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC) and of the SNIA-endorsed book Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier).

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