Green IT: Failure to Thrive


By Samuel Greengard

Over the last few years, newspapers and trade magazines have swooned over an emerging era of corporate energy-efficient computing and green IT, and Baseline is no exception. Based on all this press, you would think that green computing is now standard practice.

You would be entirely wrong. A recent New York Times article chronicled just how bad things are: A typical data center wastes up 90 percent or more of the energy it pulls from the grid. Worldwide, these facilities draw the equivalent of about 30 nuclear power plants worth of power, and the U.S. accounts for between one-quarter to one-third of the energy pull.

"Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner," the New York Times noted. In fact, the typical utilization rate at a data center falls somewhere between 7 percent and 12 percent, according to Gartner.

High-efficiency facilities operated by the likes of Facebook and Google are the exception rather than the rule. The research examined 70 large data centers running approximately 20,000 servers used by banks, pharmaceutical firms, media companies, the government and others.

One executive admitted that it's "an industry dirty secret … If we were a manufacturing industry, we'd be out of business straightaway." Multiply that by the approximately 3 million data centers of various size and shapes worldwide, and we have a huge problem. The current approach is expensive, wasteful, polluting and, ultimately, unsustainable.

Frankly, I'm not sure I'm that shocked by the news. With pressure to ensure that customers, partners and employees have instant access to the Web pages and data they demand when they demand it—everything from feature-length movies to shopping carts and cloud resources—idle computing cycles are viewed as an insurance policy for high availability.

What's remarkable is the pervasive level of inertia surrounding energy-efficient data centers—despite the relatively high ROI associated with green operations. Alas, human nature is what it is. A data center isn't exactly a manufacturing plant burning fossil fuel or belching smoke into the air. Its energy usage gets passed onto a utility. In a virtual world, it's a nifty virtual punt.

The worst part of all this is that existing technologies could fix this problem. Better and smarter equipment that shuts down idle processers, server and storage virtualization tools and more efficient design methods all help. But, in the end, senior executives must decide whether they want to provide incentives based strictly on system uptime or on the overall health and efficiency of the data center—and the enterprise.

This issue is too important to ignore.