IT execs: Pressure to build green datacentres will increase

Rising energy costs and need for consolidation will force a rethink of data retention policies and datacentre power

Rising energy costs and the need to consolidate IT infrastructure will force business managers to re-evaluate data retention policies and learn how much power every device in their datacentre consumes, said IT executives today on a panel at Computerworld's Storage Networking World conference.

The executives said that while social responsibility and proposed regulatory pressures to build more environmentally friendly datacentres are grabbing all the headlines, the real impetus to "go green" is a mandate by many organisations to trim present and future costs by understanding how data is used, stored and accessed within an IT environment.

Andrew Fanara, team leader for the Energy Star Product Specifications Development Group at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said greening IT projects are becoming a risk management strategy around planning for the future prices, volatility and potential supply issues of energy.

"Organisations and customers are now starting to pay real attention. There will be more pressure and scrutiny to drive products toward efficiency," said Fanara. "They are looking at every way they use energy and see the datacentre as a great opportunity because it's highly centralised and can help reduce risk."

The agency said last month that it is developing a benchmark to help IT managers compare and contrast energy usage in their own facilities with that in other datacentres. Fanara expects the EPA to complete its server specification by the end of the year and could release a green storage benchmark being developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association Inc. "even sooner."

However, because U.S. policymakers recognize the exorbitant amount of energy being used by datacentres, he warned audience members about the likelihood of a future price-per-carbon cost imposed by the government upon energy providers -- which he predicted will be passed onto customers.

"If you use more energy [than presently] and it's more expensive, expect your costs to go up. These problems will intensify," remarked Fanara.

Mark O'Gara, vice-president of infrastructure management for Highmark, said the healthcare provider is already tweaking optimisation across its two-year-old green datacentre and 28,000 sq.-foot raised floor space used for IT. Once his new datacentre was built, O'Gara said his next major task was to measure energy consumption for every piece of IT architecture in the facility.

He said he was surprised to see that his biggest "power hogs" included, in order: business intelligence, the storage area network, the virtual tape library, the robotics tape library and a virtual tape server. "Lo and behold, four of the five are actually storage-related," noted O'Gara.

Due to those discoveries, Highmark has accelerated prioritisation of virtualisation projects and plans to soon move off of its robotic tape library in favor of a disk-to-disk backup strategy. O'Gara said the company is on track to decrease its datacentre power consumption 10 percent by the end of 2008.

According to Leighton Wood Jr., director and CTO of Sun Microsystems' Global Storage Practice, companies that want to embrace greening-of-IT initiatives must improve their data management processes to: identify where data lives within a system; figure out how long it should reside there; and determine how retention of non-primary storage can impact power consumption.

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