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Want To Reduce Data Center Costs? Listen to Your Parents.

by Dave Hannon

May 20, 2011

By Dave Hannon


Like a lot of kids, when I was young my father hounded me to turn off lights in our house when I wasn’t using them. And not stand with the refrigerator door open while I decide what to eat. And keep the front door of the house closed in the winter. And..well, you likely know the rest of them as well as I do.

“When you start paying the bills, then you can leave on all the lights you want,” he’d say to me.

And of course he was right. When I got older and began paying my own bills, I learned that electricity, power, heat all cost money. And those expenses can add up month after month. So of course, I started monitoring my energy use – and still do – to conserve energy for environmental reasons, but mostly to keep more money in my pocket.

Your IT organization should listen to my father, too. Specifically, when it comes to managing data centers, the biggest energy hogs in the enterprise. As big data becomes bigger data and more servers are thrown onto the pile to handle the load, your company’s energy bill continues to skyrocket. In fact, here in the U.S., the Department of Energy forecasts electricity demand will increase for the commercial and industrial sectors this year, driving electricity prices up 2.3%. So if you don’t add a single server, your costs are going up this year. And you know you’re adding servers.

But while the data center managers and IT leaders are likely aware that the energy cost is increasing with every server added, they aren’t directly impacted by that cost increase and, thus, aren’t motivated to make any changes. According to a survey conducted by the Uptime Institute, less than 20% of respondents' IT departments actually pay the data center power bill, “a financial structure that makes it far more difficult to drive data center energy efficiency.”

It’s the corporate equivalent of living at home and leaving the lights on, isn’t it?

Certainly, suggesting such a change – having data center energy costs reside in the IT organization’s budget – could raise a few eyebrows (and by “raise a few eyebrows” I mean an all-out mutiny complete with eye-patches and puffy shirts) in your IT organization. It's not often one organization volunteers to take on budget lines. But the resulting cost savings could be worth the swashbuckling.

To start with, the IT organization might start looking at which servers are unused and could be shut off to reduce costs (“Turn oowwttt the lliiiights..” I can hear my old man calling up the stairs to me.). According to this 2010 survey from the Green Grid, nearly one-third of IT organizations have never checked to see which servers in their data centers are unused. And only 20% of IT orgs check on a routine basis.

What you might find in checking could surprise you. The Green Grid survey found 40% of companies have 5% unused servers and 35% of companies have between 5% and 25% percent unused servers. Imagine finding out that one quarter of your servers are running for no reason!

It’s the corporate equivalent of finding out the light in the basement of your apartment building is actually on your electric bill!

I know what you’re thinking. “Seriously, how much can we save by shutting down a few servers? A few bucks here and there and a green and fuzzy feeling?”

The Green Grid report goes on to calculate that it costs about $250 a year in energy costs alone to run a typical server. But when you add in software licensing, maintenance contracts, backup and monitoring and you’re looking at something like $4,000 a year per server. Multiply that times 5% of your servers that may be unused and that’s likely a sizeable chunk of savings.

Not to mention you’re probably running out of space in your data center, so an audit can help you free up some real estate. A survey of members of AFCOM, an association for data center managers, found that three quarters of data centers have more servers today than they did three years ago. Not a shocker. But while two-thirds of the respondents plan to consolidate data centers, two-thirds ALSO reported that they plan to expand the size of their data centers. So even with consolidation you’re going to need more space for all that big data.

What should you do when you discover unused servers? The Green Grid study says that 9% of companies that discover unused servers just “pull the plug and see what happens.” Not recommended unless you’re a big fan of all hell breaking loose. A better strategy is to talk with the users of whatever data/applications reside on that server and find out if they plan to continue using it and in what capacity before pulling any plugs.

And if you feel like that conversation could use a neutral third party to facilitate it, I know just the guy.

“Turn oowwttt the lliiiights.”


See also: Cutting your data center energy could have broad benefits

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