I’ve been in the computer and data center industry for more than 20 years, and have been privileged to participate in the change, evolution and exciting dynamics of this space.
As executive director of the nonprofit The Green Grid, I speak with data center managers regularly. A common thread in what I hear is their eagerness to deliver their services in an energy efficient way to the organizations and end-users that rely on them for almost every method of communication and commerce.
Here are 10 lessons I've learned along the way:
1. Data Centers: There Aren’t Two Alike
Data Centers have morphed from dedicated "computer rooms" at large businesses, universities and public institutions into stand-alone, sprawling facilities. And because of the variety of existing facilities, available power per location, available cooling in a facility, IT expertise and personnel, you won’t find two exactly alike anywhere in the world. A consistent theme is that they would prefer, if at all possible, to reduce the costs associated with operating or building a new facility. One key way to reduce costs? Create and maintain an energy efficient facility.
2. Too Many Data Center Managers Aren't Doing the Simple Things
There are a lot of interesting high-end technologies to help lower energy consumption. But inexpensive and simple things, such as using “blanking panels” -- pieces of plastic that cover up empty spaces in a rack of servers -- often aren’t being deployed. These techniques are simple, yet important, because they separate hot air from IT equipment from the cool air conditioned air, which reduces overall cooling costs and energy use. The Green Grid has published white papers that explain best practices along these lines.
3. Data Center Managers Embrace Metrics
The first step in any improvement program -- weight loss, personal finance, etc. -- is to first understand a baseline of where the situation is, and then identify measurable steps to make improvements. It’s no different in the IT space. Driven by the need to create measurements for energy efficiency, members of The Green Grid have worked together to identify a common set of tools, and have written dozens of white papers to lay out specific steps that data center managers can take for improvement. The benchmarks created by The Green Grid are now in wide use in the industry, especially one in particular -- Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), a measurement of the total energy of the data center, divided by the IT energy consumption. Think of it as a way to determine the amount of power being consumed to do useful work by the IT equipment (the servers/storage/networking gear/etc.) versus the overall power being used by the facility
4. There are Incredibly Smart People in the Data Center Space
If you don’t know much about data centers, you might look at them as fairly mundane facilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. These mission-critical facilities are the engines of the 21st century global economy. Fortunately, those who manage and work in data center facilities are incredibly passionate about what they do, they know their business extremely well, and energy efficiency is routinely top-of-mind for them.
5. The Data Center World is Relatively Small, But Active and Collaborative
Nothing demonstrates the benefits of collaboration more than The Green Grid, which is a team of people from rival companies, but in every sense a team of equals. The board of directors is made up of representatives from Intel and AMD, HP and Dell, EMC and IBM, APC and Emerson, and Oracle and Symantec. Most of these companies compete aggressively in their day-to-day businesses, but they have put rivalries aside for the good of the industry, and much progress has been made by working together.
6. Green IT Continues to Be a Hot-Button Issue
As the GreenBiz.com community is well aware, linking IT to organizational sustainability efforts is an impactful way for organizations to improve their bottom lines, as well as improve operational efficiency. As the economic uncertainty continues, organizations are turning to their IT organizations to drive efficiency wherever they can find it.
7. Organizations that Embrace Energy Efficiency and Green IT are Poised to Do Well
The efficiency of an organization’s IT infrastructure is linked to its financial health. Companies that embrace strategies to reduce power consumption, such as deploying policies to shut down PCs at night and using server virtualization in the data center, are using fewer dollars to pay for electricity, thus improving their bottom line. If an organization can achieve targets for better efficiency in their IT use, they can count on fewer dollars to run that equipment.
8. Customers and Business Decision-Makers Care About Data Center Energy Efficiency More Than Ever
A passion exists for understanding how to improve on energy efficiency around technology. When I tell people what The Green Grid does, I’m continually amazed at the responses I get; even though I expect that discussing some of the technology “in the weeds” will cause eyes to glaze over, the opposite happens. Managers at all levels of an organization genuinely want to know what they can do to improve the efficiency of their operations.
9. Virtualization Continues to Be One of the Most Active Technologies for Energy Efficiency
If I could wave a magic wand to encourage IT managers to do one thing, it would be to use server and storage virtualization technologies. In many cases it’s possible (depending on the kind of work) to reduce the energy footprint of 12 servers down to just one, while keeping performance intact. When widely deployed in an organization or facility, this technology has the potential to have one of the largest impacts on energy consumption, and other technologies can build on top of that.
10. Green IT is a Global Issue
This isn’t a U.S. issue, a European issue, or an issue facing Japan -- it’s a global concern. The need for better utilization of power, cooling, space and IT resources in a facility transcends borders. It’s great to be a part of an organization that’s building consensus and connectivity on a global basis to drive real, lasting impact. No one country wants to “re-invent the wheel” when it comes to defining energy efficiency, and I’m proud to say that we’re doing everything we can to bring global harmony to the way it’s measured.
Larry Vertal is the executive director of The Green Grid. He previously worked as chief strategist at AMD, in addition to roles at AT&T, NCR and Conita Technologies.