The Energy Problem

If someone asked you the cost of providing electricity to your data center for a month, do you even know where to find the information? The primary cause of the electrical usage problem in a company is the disconnect between the people who are using electricity and the ones who are paying the bills. Employee behaviors are the result of a company's reward system.

The people consuming this resource have little incentive to economize; they simply assume it's available. The people who are paying the bills lack the time or technical understanding to debate its appropriate level of use.

Electrical consumption is a combination of what we are operating and how we operate it. For efficient electrical usage, which devices should we buy? Imagine shopping for new computers that were plastered with stickers such as those found on a new refrigerator—stickers that proclaim the average amount of energy used by that device in a given year. With this information, IT managers could make intelligent comparisons of the operational costs between devices with similar capabilities. That day has not yet arrived. Purchases are typically based on current company technical standards or lowest price. Energy consumption is not a determining factor.

Much of the electrical energy purchased by an IT organization is consumed by equipment sitting idle. Think not? When workers go home at night, the lights are turned off. Are all desktop PCs turned off as well? How about their monitors and printers? How much electricity is used while they sit around with no one to use them? Is this a wise use of a company's scarce financial resources?

Think about the data center. Rows of servers, disk drives, tape backup systems all humming along all day, every day. For most companies, the daytime hours are used in on-line inquiries, while evening hours are used for batch processing. Yet only certain servers are engaged in all of the processing. There could be long stretches of time when many others sit, slurping down electricity, generating heat that must be cooled. This continues hour after hour, kilowatt after kilowatt. We cannot flip computer switches on and off throughout the day. It takes time to start a computer and to warm up a laser printer. There is business value in having these tools always immediately available.

So what are the solutions? What are some practical actions to address these issues without hurting customer support?

Sometimes being green and saving energy go hand in hand. Have you ever replaced someone's bulky desktop CRT monitor with an LCD monitor? The LCD monitor's smaller size frees desk space for other things, so people are very happy to make the switch. (The image displayed on LCD monitors "appears" larger than it is, permitting the use of smaller screens.) As a side note, you just reduced the company's electrical expenses for that single device by two-thirds. The same goes with replacing desktop computers under a three-year refresh cycle. If the new machines are Energy Star compliant, then they will provide greater performance (being three years more technically advanced than the unit they replaced), while using even less electricity. A component of Energy Star compliance is that the equipment is set to automatically "go to sleep" (a reduced power state where everything in memory is saved). Of course, if this function is disabled, then much of the Energy Star benefit is lost.

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