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Are Your Servers Running Efficiently?

Last July, the US federal government announced plans to shut 40 percent of its data centers over the next four years. With more than 2,000 data centers, the Obama Administration realized that data center consolidation was part of a broader strategy to become more IT efficient and make substantial savings (predictions run into billions of dollars a year).

Over the past 20 years, physical servers have shrunk in size to today’s pizza box, and processing capacity has continued to double every two years, a trend that looks set to continue until at least 2020. These factors have contributed to the higher power and cooling demands in data centers. These complex and dynamic environments are under scrutiny to be managed more effectively and efficiently.

Driven by rising energy prices and the state of the fragile economy, as well as other pressures that IT departments have on their budgets, focus has come to bear on DCIM (Data Centre Infrastructure Management) solutions. This emerging new sector of tools and solutions provides organizations with the monitoring, reporting, visualizing, and management of physical data assets across IT and facility infrastructures.

The elephant in the room

Data center monitoring systems have evolved to provide insight into the performance of equipment in the data center. From storage and networking, to air conditioning and the physical building, integrated monitoring and management tools give a holistic view of a facility.

However there is a glaring disconnect between the facility and the IT infrastructure which needs addressing.  It is the proverbial elephant in the room.

For federal organizations to be truly energy conscious and effective, they must focus on running servers efficiently. For this to happen, IT management needs the ability to measure how much power is being used by them as well as identify which ones are being inefficient.

You may buy the most energy efficient servers available today but in actuality you may not run them efficiently. Research Server energy and efficiency report, Alliance to Save Energy shows that servers use about 60 percent of their maximum power while doing nothing at all and typically only run at around 15 percent utilization.

The crux of the utilization debate however is, what business value is the server performing? Essentially this isn’t about the level of business value, high or low, but about whether your servers are doing anything useful at all.  If there’s no useful activity, then your investment is giving you absolutely no return. And it’s time to change your strategy.

Server power management

Server power management software enables you to monitor the amount of useful activity across physical and virtual servers and gives you the confidence to decommission unused ones.

Research from the Alliance to Save Energy shows that one in six servers is not performing any useful work. To quantify the saving if 15 percent of federal servers (the full estate is estimated to be 1.5 million servers) were decommissioned, then there would  be a whopping $990,000m of savings (according to Worldwide and .S Enterprise Server 2007-2011 Forecast Update by Vertical Market and Company Size, IDC, June 2008) if you take into account the total costs of running non-productive servers. This equates to roughly 651,000 metric tons of CO2.

If a server is busy only performing “housekeeping tasks” such as virus scanning or receiving software updates then it is not providing value to the business. A server should spend its time and resources carrying out the work for which it was purchased. For example, a SQL Server doing SQL processing is performing useful work since users and/or applications will typically access SQL. The same server performing anti-virus scanning is not doing useful work since whilst AV scanning is important, it is not directly serving end users.

Server power management can also improve a server’s energy draw by putting it into a drowsy state if it’s inactive for more than predefined time. It can transition back immediately to full performance to service useful work.

Informed decisions, improved bottom line

With instant visibility of power costs, efficiency and CO2 emissions via a dashboard, you can make informed decisions about whether to decommission any servers. It may seem counter-intuitive to reduce a server farm, but federal agencies make significant savings – $4,400 per physical server and $1,000 per virtual server – and achieve IT efficiencies that they can trumpet about.

Jerry Rutkowski is Director of Strategic Accounts, Federal, at 1E, the global leader in Efficient IT solutions. www.1e.com

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