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A Holistic Solution to the IT Energy Crisis

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly two percent of all electrical power consumed in the U.S. in 2006 was used by IT data centers -- an amount about equal to the electricity used by five percent of total U.S. households. And that number is growing. In a recent white paper for IDC, Jed Scaramella writes that for every dollar in server spending today, companies spend $.50 on power and cooling, and it is expected to rise to $.70 by 2010. The same report predicts that by 2012, 40 percent of an enterprise's technology budget will be consumed by energy costs.

Higher electricity usage not only takes a chunk out of our checkbooks, energy consumption affects the quality of our water and air and is leading to dramatic climate change. Our children and their children are going to suffer the environmental consequences of the IT architecture decisions we make today.

What is causing this explosion of power and cooling requirements in the data center?

Certainly, the proliferation of Internet technology since the late 1990s and the need for massive server farms to support the millions of daily Web transactions has contributed to the increase. Just ask Web giants eBay, Google, and Yahoo! what they spend on electricity to keep their servers running.

But server power consumption only tells part of the story. Those millions of servers are accompanied by networking equipment -- routers, switches, HBAs and NICs -- that form the fabric that connects servers to other servers, storage devices and clients (desktops and laptops). In fact, networking equipment makes up 10 percent of all data center gear.

This growth in servers and network infrastructure has caused an enormous spike in electricity usage in the data center. Power consumption per rack has increased from 1kW in 2000 to 8kW in 2006 and is expected to rise to 20kW by 2010. This 20x explosion in energy consumption isn't merely the result of more servers in production. Much of the growth comes from the increase in additional networking infrastructure required to run and support server deployments. In fact, out of the $29 billion spent annually on server power and cooling, only 30 percent actually goes to the IT load.

For companies that need to react quickly to today's dynamic market environment and satisfy demanding website visitors, the seamless flow of information between systems and the user is just as important as processing speed, requiring companies to deploy thousands of pieces of networking equipment in an effort to meet aggressive bandwidth and latency requirements. This over-provisioning strategy doesn't come without a cost. In addition to higher capital expenses, companies have to foot the bill for growing operational costs associated with the energy-draining equipment.

Consider that the average 1U rack switch with 24 Ethernet ports uses a minimum of 250 watts of power (most use more). In continuous use -- a requirement for most 24x7 Web businesses -- each switch consumes 2190 kWh annually. If the source of this electricity is a coal-fired plant (as is the case in many emerging economies around the world), producing 2190 kWh of energy requires 1780 pounds of coal*. 1780 pounds of coal releases over two tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere along with other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. This doesn't even include the impurities released during mining and transportation. Multiply two tons of pollutants per year by tens of millions of rack switches currently in production worldwide, and it's easy to see that we have a major environmental catastrophe on our hands.

Energy-Efficient Data Center Consolidation

Server demands are not going to magically decrease, making it vitally important that the industry develop and encourage the use of energy-efficient server and network architecture options. For example, blade servers combined with data center consolidation efforts can dramatically reduce power and cooling costs while still meeting the performance and high-availability needs of today's businesses. Companies can deploy HP, IBM or NEC blades as a self-sufficient "data center in a box" that includes computing, storage, networking and security in a single enclosure no bigger than a bedside table. This solution includes redundant power and cooling supplies and eliminates unnecessary external network equipment.

Because internal blade switches consume only 25 to 65 watts versus the 300 to 2,000 watts consumed by typical rack-mounted or line-card module switches, companies can prevent the release of thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide into the environment for a single stand-alone blade chassis. In the table below, you can see the energy saving difference between a standard 10 port 10Gb Ethernet blade switch and a standard 4 port 10Gb Ethernet line card module. The blade switch provides substantial financial and ecological savings.

In total, the "data center in a box" concept offers considerable savings for a mid-tier business that may only require one enclosure to run operations, while an enterprise with hundreds of servers in production may be able to save millions of dollars annually.

A major financial services firm recently switched to a blade architecture in its 25 data centers around the world, integrating switching and routing technology directly within the blade enclosure. By making the switch from rack-mounted servers and networking equipment, the company is now saving nearly 40 million kWh of energy per year or around $4 million.

Data Center Consolidation Improves Reliability, Availability, Performance

The benefits of data center consolidation extend beyond saving the environment and shrinking the electricity bill. A self-sufficient "data center in a box" deployment simplifies management by eliminating external equipment and cabling, internalizing server-to-server and server-to-storage communication. This makes it easier to provision and scale server capacity as compute needs change, allowing seamless load balancing between the blade servers for true on-demand capability.

The decreased latency of server-to-server communication via the blade chassis backplane improves application performance while making client-server interactions more reliable and more secure. As a result, end users have access to the tools and information they need to service customers and make accurate, timely business decisions. At the same time, IT management is streamlined, allowing administrators to focus on more proactive, revenue-generating projects.

Data center consolidation efforts can dramatically reduce the IT organization's carbon footprint and lower companies' electricity bills while allowing them to meet the aggressive performance and availability requirements of today's low-latency, high-bandwidth business applications. Companies can now make environmentally conscience IT architecture decisions that can both improve the company's bottom line and make a positive impact on the environment our children will inherit.

*Note: The thermal energy of coal is 6,150 kWh/ton. Only about 40 percent of the thermal energy in coal is converted to electricity. Electricity generated per ton of coal is 0.4 x 6,150 kWh or 2,460 kWh/ton. 2190 kWh divided by 2,460 kWh/ton=0.89 tons (1780 pounds) of coal in one year (via

Vikram Mehta is president and CEO of BLADE Network Technologies, the first IT networking company to be named to the AlwaysOn Going Green 100.

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