From Point A to Point Green

A winning strategy for achieving datacenter efficiency starts with these six essential steps

"Green = efficiency = savings" was a recurring theme at this year's Uptime Institute Green Enterprise Computing Symposium. It's a simple message, to be sure, but it gets right to the heart of the case for pursuing greener practices in the datacenter: Cutting waste does indeed mean that you're spending less money on purchases and upkeep; that you're making better use of what you've got; and that you're reducing your organization's environmental impact in the process.

Grasping that concept isn't too difficult. The real challenge, one shared by the 400-plus attendees at the symposium, remains figuring out how to get from inefficient Point A to efficient Point Green. If only there were a plug-and-play box you could install in the datacenter (The Green-o-matic 3000) to magically optimize cooling, boost server utilization to 99 per cent, track down zombie machines, and reduce the facility's carbon footprint to zero. Alas, none of the vendors at the symposium announced anything like that, so attendees will instead have to rely on some of the lessons gleaned from the event.

1. Measure something

If you're an Olympic athlete striving to shave seconds from your time, a stopwatch is a critical tool. Otherwise, how will you know what your best time is and whether you've managed to beat it?

Same goes for an IT admin working to bring greater efficiency to the datacenter. In order to get a sense of how efficient (or inefficient) you are to begin with, as well as to gauge the impact of implementing different strategies, you need to measure, measure, measure.

That, of course, leads to a key question: What do I measure? Well, PUE or DCIE are good places to start. Those are metrics devised by The Green Grid, intended to give organizations a sense of how much energy being consumed in the datacenter is making it into IT equipment to do actual work, as opposed to the those watts being consumed for power conversion, cooling, and other non-productive tasks.

2. Make sure every machine running has a purpose

Plenty of companies have reaped green benefits of combing the datacenter for servers that are providing no obvious benefit yet remain plugged in, drawing valuable watts and space. Periodic walks through the datacenter can help track down those machines -- but some organizations are taking it a step further.

At some companies, someone in IT will periodically track down users or department heads and ask them to justify the servers and other IT equipment they use. Some organizations, such as Microsoft, take it a step further by charging departments on a very granular level for the IT resources they use. The company says this approach has resulted in users being more proactive in reducing consumption, since there's an obvious reward -- more money in their budget -- for doing so.

3. Grab the low-hanging facilities fruit

Forty per cent of the cooling fans in a computer room are operating because of gross mismanagement or inadequate containment of cooling air, according to Uptime, and much of that waste can be addressed easily with some standard best practices. Among them: plugging holes, adjusting temperatures, and eliminating hot spots.

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