Pressure to build green data centers will intensify, say IT execs

Energy crunch could spark higher demand

ORLANDO — 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 data center 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 data centers are grabbing all the headlines, the real impetus to "go green" is a mandate by many organizations 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 green IT projects are becoming a risk management strategy around planning for the future prices, volatility and potential supply issues of energy.

"Organizations 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 data center as a great opportunity because it's highly centralized and can help reduce risk."

The agency said last month that it is developing a benchmark to help IT managers compare energy usage in their own facilities with that in other data centers. 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 data centers, he warned audience members about the likelihood of a future price-per-carbon cost imposed upon energy providers by the government — 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," said Fanara.

Mark O'Gara, vice president of infrastructure management at Highmark Inc., said the health care provider is already tweaking optimization across its two-year-old green data center and 28,000-square-foot raised-floor space used for IT. After the new data center 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.

As a result of those discoveries, Highmark has accelerated prioritization of virtualization 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 data center power consumption 10% by the end of 2008.

According to Leighton Wood Jr., director and CTO of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s 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 nonprimary storage can impact power consumption.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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