The Uptime Institute estimates that 20% of all racked IT equipment has no earthly function other than to warm the planet. But for data centers that do manage to unplug equipment, the savings are significant.
To draw attention to the issue of what are sometimes called "ghost servers," Uptime held a contest, inviting data center managers to submit their own efficiency efforts. The results are impressive.
Barclays, the top performer in Uptime's ranking, removed 9,124 physical servers last year. Those servers, in total, consumed 2.5 megawatts (MW) of power and could fill 588 server racks. The company's power bill would be $4.5 million higher if the systems were still running.
Moreover, Barclays saved $1.3 million on legacy hardware maintenance costs and freed up more than 20,000 network ports and 3,000 SAN ports.
Sun Life Financial came in second by retiring 441 servers. It replaced 54 of those systems with newer, more efficient models and converted 75 to virtual servers. Sun Life expects to save 115 kilowatts a year in electricity consumption and $100,000 in energy costs. The change also allowed the company to reclaim data center space.
Uptime runs this contest to draw attention to the savings data center decommissioning can deliver.
Scott Killian, vice president of energy programs at Uptime, was until very recently manager of AOL's primary data centers and has been involved in similar decommissioning efforts. The process, he said, isn't easy.
When business units add new applications, IT operations will buy and install servers to meet the need based on capacity projections. With time, application use may migrate or diminish, leaving the servers behind, said Killian.
A business unit might trigger the expansion, but it takes "a real push from IT operations to force the issue" once hardware has outlived its usefulness or is under-utilized, said Killian. "We're at the point where you are essentially monopolizing valuable data center space and raised floor space and power," he said.
Killian said decommissioning can be a lengthy process involving both IT and the business interests, which may be focused on developing new products -- not on getting rid of old equipment. Moreover, decommissioning may involve porting an application to a virtual platform and private cloud environment, he said.
It's hard to know how rigorous IT managers are on consolidating and retiring equipment, but one indicator may be server revenue. IDC has cited server consolidations as one reason for declines in server revenues.
Barclays plans to continue its efforts. In a statement, Ian Penny, Global Head of Distributed Technologies at Barclays, said that "increasing reliance on internal virtual private cloud technologies has allowed us to continue to remove physical servers from the environment, resulting in significant savings and reduced environmental impact.
"As we deploy our next generation cloud platforms and start to leverage hybrid resource models, we expect this trend to continue," said Penny.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.