The horror: 'Ghost servers' that haunt your bottom line

They eat up real estate and electricity, but aren't doing any real work.

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Energy cost is the major issue that is changing attitudes inside corporations. In August, the Environmental Protection Agency published a report that documented data center power usage. According to the report, data centers in the U.S. consumed about 60 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006, or about 1.5% of total electricity consumption in the country.

The EPA points out that data center energy use has doubled in the past five years, and is expected to double again in the next five years to an annual cost of about $7.4 billion. The EPA says existing technologies and strategies could reduce typical sever energy use by 25%, and even greater savings are possible using more advanced technologies.

Rockwell Bonecutter, head of data center technology and operations at Accenture Ltd., believes that a large percentage of the ghost server problem was alleviated when most businesses engaged in extensive Y2k efforts within their infrastructure. In the intervening years, however, there has been a significant growth of systems that operate at 5% utilization or less, often because of poor communication and asset management within the company.

"When it comes to servers that nobody knows about that are sitting for years and nobody has touched, there are probably examples in every IT environment, but it's obviously impossible to measure what you don't know exists," Bonecutter says. "What we have found is that it is not unusual to find that 40% of all servers on a floor could be consolidated and virtualized out of the environment."

Consolidation through virtualization has also led to the new phenomena of virtual ghost servers. The ease and quickness with which virtual servers can be created can often leave servers cluttered with numerous poorly documented virtual machines created for short-term or abandoned projects.

With tools allowing businesses to get a more holistic view of their assets and policies in place to guide a formal decommissioning process, businesses can now reduce the risk and associated costs of ghost servers, without the need to call on the aid of another great Hollywood institution, Ghostbusters.

Darrell Dunn is a freelance reporter in Fort Worth, Texas, with 20 years of experience covering business technology and enterprise IT. Contact him at

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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