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Datacenter operations choosing the right assets to make datacenters green

September 26, 2008

Consuming between 10 and 30 times the energy as equivalent-sized office spaces, data centers contribute to more than their share of electricity costs. As such, the power and cooling of IT equipment has emerged as a key focus area for enterprises. Instead of taking a one-off approach to green data center initiatives, consider how asset lifecycle management can be married to environmental stewardship to improve efficiency and lower costs.
This post provides a more holistic approach to going green that optimizes the data center strategy by focusing on all aspects of equipment lifecycle, including:
» Asset acquisition.
» Equipment operation and maintenance. » Asset disposal.
Enterprises are hoping to find ways to reduce their costs for energy and cooling in high density data centers. In addition, many enterprises also have a mandate to reduce their environmental footprint and to go green. Both goals can be met with an asset lifecycle approach.


Green and cost savings do not need to be mutually exclusive. For a truly green data center strategy that also optimizes cost, focus on all aspects of the equipment lifecycle. At the time of acquisition, choose environmentally-responsible vendors and right-size equipment to maximize capacity utilization. During everyday operations, reduce waste and save energy using environmental best practices. When it finally comes to disposing of assets, do so in a responsible and cost effective manner.
Key Considerations
» Overcapacity. The number one way to reduce asset acquisition as well as ongoing energy costs is rightsizing IT equipment to match near-term requirements. Case studies show that average server utilization rates average from 10% to 20% of capacity. Equipment – including servers, storage, power supplies, UPS systems, air conditioners, fans, and air exchange systems – operating with significant overcapacity is a waste. In addition to lowering IT investment in fixed assets, The Green Grid estimates that rightsizing IT equipment can reduce energy consumption by as much as 50%. This is due to the fact that fixed losses in power and cooling are present regardless of how much IT load is actually being used.
» Toxic hazards. When selecting IT equipment, it is important to keep the health of both employees and the environment in mind. Much of the IT equipment in use today contains toxic chemicals that can cause health and ecological damage. Common toxins include:
– Four to eight pounds of lead in the average CRT monitor.
– Beryllium in motherboards and connectors. – Mercury in flat panel displays and switches. – Brominated flame retardants in plastics.
– PVC plastics.
– Cadmium in SMD chip resistors, infrared detectors, and semiconductors.
From an enterprise cost perspective, increasingly discerning government regulations may outline disposal guidelines for certain types of materials, thus increasing the disposal/recycling cost of equipment at the end of its useful life.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) conducts studies of major PC and electronics vendors to see which ones embrace environmental initiatives to reduce toxic chemicals from products and improve lifecycle management (i.e. e-waste recycling) of electronic goods.
» Floor layout and airflow management. According to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), proper airflow management can increase the cooling capacity of a Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) system by 50% or more. For more information on how to develop best practices for room layout and airflow management,
» Server consolidation and virtualization. Consolidation and virtualization can contribute to increased heat density (more computing power in a smaller space) and raise concerns about cooling. However, these strategies also significantly reduce server costs and environmental footprint. Info-Tech research suggests that server virtualization can reduce one-time and ongoing hardware acquisition costs by 40% to 75%, as well as reduce ongoing maintenance costs (incorporating power and cooling) by between 25% and 50%. For more information on server virtualization,
» Appropriate upgrade cycles. Holding on to legacy systems beyond their useful life can escalate energy costs both as a result of redundant or seldom-used applications that run unnecessarily and due to the poor efficiency of the old hardware (i.e. inefficient power supplies and fans, excessive heat output, and uneconomical design). These costs can easily rival the cost of maintaining the underlying hardware, but are not typically included when considering the TCO of legacy systems.
Keeping up with new advances in energy efficiency will always be a challenge. Developing migration plans for all IT equipment from the get-go will allow for more predictable budgeting and ensure that IT is always running the most efficient configurations possible.
» Workstation efficiency. There are a variety of best practices that IT can encourage to help users reduce workstation power consumption. As an example, make sure that employees turn off their computers at night (unless access is required from home via Remote Desktop) and ban the use of screen savers in favor of screen power-off. Also, simply setting machines to hibernate when unused for long periods of time can help. Power management can be controlled centrally using Group Policy – for more information on how to implement this, see Energy Star’s “EZ GPO software.”
» Printer/output fleet management. For most companies, the output fleet represents a significant annual expenditure (5% of the average IT budget) and a significant opportunity for savings. The average output fleet presents an opportunity for most IT departments to realize savings of 20- 30% on printing costs. From an environmental perspective, optimizing the output fleet reduces wasted paper, ink, and toner. Consider best practices such as switching from desktop printers to departmental printers, implementing double-sided printing, using lower weight/recycled paper for draft print jobs, and limiting the use of color printing.

» Electronic waste. Disposal of IT assets and the growth in electronic waste (e-waste) is a growing concern. According to the US National Safety Council, nearly 250 million computers will become obsolete in the US between 2004 and 2009. That is approximately 137,000 PCs and servers a day. There are legal requirements to dispose of e-waste in a responsible manner and failing to do so can result in heavy fines of up to $25,000 per incident of improper disposal.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts US e-waste production at over two million tons per year. PlasticsEurope estimates that Europe produces some seven millions tons of e- waste per year. Environment Canada’s Environmental Protection Branch puts Canada’s figure at 67,000 tons per year.
Globally, the European Union is ahead of the game in terms of reducing e-waste, and has recently passed legislation requiring vendors to phase out many dangerous toxins from electronics products (scheduled to go into effect in January 2007). For more detailed requirements, refer to the European Union Directive on Waste from Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Web site.
Several American states, including California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Maine, have already banned e-waste from landfills. Overall, California is leading the charge with statutes and regulations aimed at improving the management of electronic products and e-waste. For more detailed information, refer to the California Integrated Waste Management Board Web site. Many other states are considering bills that would improve regulation and force enterprises to revisit asset disposal policies.

Improvement & Optimization

1. Reward responsible vendors with your business. In general, responsible vendors reduce the use of toxins in products, participate in product take-back programs, and assist with asset lifecycle planning.
» The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) helps enterprises select more environmentally friendly products.
» Greenpeace Green Electronics Guide ranks leading mobile and PC vendors on their global policies and practices and is updated every three months.
» The SVTC is a consumer advocacy group that reports on environmental responsibility in the IT industry.
» Consumer Reports offers some guidance on green buying as well.
» In addition to these general guidelines, develop internal baseline standards and hold all potential vendors and suppliers to these standards by including environmental considerations in RFPs.
2. Right-size IT equipment. Balance growth expectations against capacity utilization. Establish current and future power and cooling requirements and, where possible, invest in modular, scalable equipment and add capacity only as growth in IT loads demands it. As an example, server/storage consolidation is often used as a way of eliminating redundant equipment and improving capacity utilization.
In addition to rightsizing, IT should scrutinize all equipment defaults. Default settings and configurations for most equipment are likely not the most energy/cost efficient. As an example, consider fan speeds in air conditioning units and PC/server power management settings that balance performance against energy consumption.
3. Develop environmental best practices for all IT assets. Everything under the control of IT has an environmental impact as well as a cost impact that can be reduced, including: servers and storage, power and cooling equipment, network equipment, desktop PCs, output devices, and the use of physical space. In general, green initiatives aim to eliminate waste, which ultimately reduces costs as well.
4. Dispose of e-waste in a responsible manner. According to asset disposal provider Retire-IT, there are currently over 550 US laws affecting IT equipment disposal. There are several options for the disposal of e-waste, including donating to charities, participating in vendor-sponsored programs, or employing paid recycling services. In addition to the links below, refer to the Info- Tech Advisor research post, “How to Pick the Right PC Recycling Shop.”
» The EPA’s site on e-waste management provides information (including regulatory requirements) on recycling e-waste.
» Most large vendors, such as Dell, HP, and IBM offer asset recovery/disposal services for corporate buyers.
» A fairly comprehensive list of recycling providers can be found on the International Association of Electronic Recyclers (IAER) Web site.
» provides a list of electronics recycling facilities by state.
» The US National Electronics Recycling Information Clearinghouse (NERIC) project provides a wealth of information on electronic product recycling.

Bottom Line

Green opportunities to save money go beyond server energy efficiency. Stop taking a chip-shot approach with green data center initiatives and develop a complete end-to-end strategy that incorporates cost-effective and environmental best practices throughout the lifecycle of all IT assets.

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