Forget big data – energy-savvy businesses need green data

The rise of consumer computing, social media, gaming, email, smartphones with cameras and other conduits have created what has been dubbed the ‘digital exhaust’ of the global economy.

People are creating more data, and there are more people, too. The UN estimates the world population has doubled from four to eight billion since the 1960s, and is likely to do so again in a similar timeframe. Gartner estimates seven billion smartphones will be shipped between 2013 and 2017. In short: we’ll be creating more data, and using more electricity to generate, store and process it in datacentres.

The knock-on for businesses

How much energy are we talking about? More than you might expect. In 2007, the US Environmental Protection Agency published a report that, amongst other things, claimed that 1.5% of the power generated in the States in 2006 was used to power datacentres – a doubling of the energy consumed just six years earlier.

To give a bit of context: the entire airline industry uses 1.5% of global energy supplies a year to build and operate its jets and businesses. The internet, and tech as a whole, went from savior of the world to grubby polluter in an instant.

> See also: How businesses are optimising flash storage in 2015

Thankfully, the EPA’s projection – that this would increase to 3.5% by 2011 – didn’t come true, thanks to advances in the mechanical design of datacentres and improved cooling techniques. But in 2010, the number was still 1.5%.

The green agenda

Datacentres tend to use fossil fuels, creating greenhouse gasses. They also produce waste heat, a secondary pollutant that also has to be extracted and managed. The focus on datacentre design has changed from proximity to consumers towards easy access to cold air and cold water, both of which can be used to cool the facility and dispose of excess heat in a responsible fashion.

There is increasing scrutiny of how we use energy for work and leisure, and a combination of global political upheaval, recent natural disasters and projected shortages is pushing awareness of energy consumption and energy efficiency further and further up the agenda – for everything from cars to datacentres.

The agenda for corporate responsibility has been driven in part by the failure of the Kyoto protocols to produce a successful action plan on how to deal with pollution, CO2 emission levels and global temperature fluctuations. Demands for corporate leadership in key areas such as ethically sourced products, reductions in carbon footprints and fossil fuel conservation have been driven by forward-thinking management and shareholders in the absence of pan-government action.

An imperative for change

All of which takes us back to the datacentre, how this affects what we use as businesses, and how that is changing. Short of space, facing rising energy bills, the typical datacentre operator is already saving costs while retaining performance.

They do this by using more efficient power trains and cooling, by selecting and using more energy-efficient servers and network switches. Virtualisation brings enormous benefits, and one of the biggest is that you simply don’t need so much machinery switched on to guarantee uptime.

The remarkable savings in power efficiency during the last five years have simply absorbed the growth in datacentre power consumption. But with the world’s most advanced datacentres now operating with a power overhead of 7% or less for cooling, there is little further room for improvement.

Less modern datacentres do exist, and currently operate with a 70-100% cooling overhead. But the costs of addressing that inefficiency are so prohibitive that it is generally less costly to build a new facility instead. In either event, immediate improvement is highly unlikely.

There’s one thing that continues to consume power and emit huge amounts of waste heat – the last set of moving parts in the compute chain. They generally consume 30-50% of datacentre power and physical space. The hard disk arrays.

The quantum leap

Today the most advanced flash storage arrays can deliver the same usable storage capacity as a hard disk array while achieving 1,000% of the performance and using 10% of the power. The operational cost savings on power/cooling achieved by switching from disk to an 11TB advanced flash array (using current US energy prices) amount to $200,000 over 5 years. Those are our calculations – but don’t take our word for it.

> See also: Give your workplace the green light – top tips for energy efficient technology

Forrester recently completed a Total Economic Impact study of a Pure Storage array compared to a hard disk – equipped vendor, finding that power and cooling savings alone for a single array over three years came to $85,719. Incidentally, that was one of the smaller savings involved – software, deployment and rack space cost avoidance were all significant, too.

The reclaimed capacity helps prevent IT managers wasting time being forced to play datacentre Tetris with floor tiles in their facilities, and every rack of disk array replaced with a flash array allows an additional 30+ physical servers to be installed and powered or the space and power reclaimed.

If you’re looking for a big energy save, then examining the power consumed by storage arrays in your datacentre is a good next place to start. Being green, it seems, makes excellent business sense.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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