Data Centers Only Operating at 4% Utilization

by | Jul 8, 2010

A majority of servers in data centers operate at only four percent average utilization, representing a huge opportunity for organizations to reduce energy use through better design and operation, according to findings by Greening Greater Toronto.

The statement is the result of a recent “Green Exchange” meeting on greening IT practices hosted by Greening Greater Toronto in partnership with the Ontario Institute of the Purchasing Management Association of Canada.

The meeting brought together IT purchasers from large private and public sector organizations to delve into the trends, considerations and paybacks of buying green and increasing the energy efficiency of IT.

In utilization, reducing the number of servers used, employing virtualization and switching from servers to mainframes represent some of the easiest potential savings initiatives. In housing, paying closer attention to the placement of thermostats and adding fans strategically to effectively circulate and mix air can generate huge energy savings. Similarly, setting the thermostat to a slightly higher temperature, rather than overcompensating with more cold than necessary, can significantly reduce energy consumption.

One of the other lessons learned from the meeting is that central-control systems are more effective at reducing energy consumption than relying on employee practices. Purchasers who implemented employee training programs to have people turn off their machines at the end of the day reported maximum penetration rates of 65 percent, declining rapidly over time.

In contrast, most organizations have focused on control solutions, where IT staff program computers to turn off on a timed cycle. This is often matched with settings to turn off monitors or put computers into sleep-modes after a certain period of inactivity. Purchasers report almost no user resistance to these solutions and consider it part of a larger trend of centralizing control of individual computers over a network. Most purchasers have solved common concerns about timed off-cycles with a software-based

solution like the NightWatchman or Surveyor Windows server monitoring software.

A few organizations are introducing additional innovations such as liquid cooling and district energy sources. In Markham, Ontario, in the only current example in Canada, a Bell Canada Data centre makes use of liquid cooling combined with another innovation, district energy, in which chilled water is obtained from a local district energy system rather than generated onsite.

Another center called Telehouse West in East London, England, makes use of generated heat to warm nearby homes in winter rather than simply dispersing it. These models are often combined with free-cooling in which the weather during cold seasons is used to chill facilities by drawing in air.

EMC recently reported it generated $7.5 million in energy savings over five years by virtualizing and consolidating its servers and data storage, while AT&T has reduced its energy intensity (energy use relative to data growth on its network) by 23.8 percent.

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