A shade of Green: The virtual conundrum

Does virtualisation provide the Green fingers some hope it will?

Energy efficiency has long been touted as a major benefit of virtualisation. After all, fewer physical servers — or any other hardware for that matter — will ultimately require less power to run, need less cooling, and take up less data centre space.

The statistics often corroborate: IDC indicates the annual energy consumed by a single server, utilised or otherwise, produces four tons of carbon dioxide. That amount can quickly compound in large enterprises where virtualisation has not been implemented.

McKinsey, as well, estimates suggest a 30 per cent savings in the cost of power through virtualisation, a figure which has often been used to push Cloud computing among other technologies.

But it’s not always easy being Green. As Gartner last year warned on the topic of virtual desktops: “Enterprises need to understand the strain this technology can place on their data centre infrastructures and operations”.

According to David Blumanis, Asia Pacific vice president of regional data centre solutions at APC, the trouble lies in the increased density that virtualisation brings.

The problem, he says, is that the traditional data centre cooling methods used in an earlier era no longer apply to modern infrastructure with high levels of consolidation. Though there are fewer servers, each physical server is in fact working harder to provide the same amount of output, if not more.

“The traditional data centre can no longer cope,” Blumanis says. “It starts escalating as the cost of electricity escalates in Australia. We’re sort of racing at a hundred miles an hour through virtualisation and magnifying the energy cost and requirements moving forward.”

The problem is such that, according to one Gartner statistic, power controls up to 12 per cent of the operational expenditure used to keep a data centre running.

ICT industry body, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), agrees.

“Despite innovations such as server virtualisation and ‘Green PCs’, power consumption is also rising, as increased processing power usually means hotter processors, which in turn means more cooling,” reads the association’s ICT’s Role in the Low Carbon Economy paper, released last year to urge action from all sides of business and government on the Green issue.

Cooling is an ever-evolving field, but in a country that has the highest adoption rates of both server virtualisation and blade servers — but a dearth of data centre space — virtualisation is quickly out-stripping the benefits it is supposed to provide.

For all the public good the Green agenda can provide, evaporating cost savings may ultimately diminish the case energy efficiency once had.

“I would say people are still doing energy efficiency for cost reasons; they’re not doing it to save the planet,” Blumanis concedes.

Further incentives from government could help to prop up the Green agenda, such as a carbon price and tax breaks. However, both Blumanis and members of the AIIA agree that a leadership role is needed among politicians first to yield tangible results.

Like any technology, virtualisation comes with the perils and fine print that may just put some adopters off it completely.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags virtualisationgreen IT

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