Green IT numbers don't lie

From 2007 to 2010, datacenter energy consumption will grow by a third. The rest of the numbers are just as scary

Stark statistics shed light on the needs driving green computing

If a picture's worth a thousand words, how many are statistics worth, I wonder? I have some numbers this week that speak volumes as to why so many companies have green IT on the brain -- or why they should.

These figures come from management consultancy McKinsey and Company, part of a report titled "Revolutionizing Data Center Efficiency," issued at the recent Uptime Institute's Green Computing Symposium. If someone at your company is pooh-poohing the notion of even investigating sustainable IT opportunities, some of these numbers might give them pause to reconsider.

US$11.5 billion - The total estimated energy bill for datacenters come 2010, up from US$8.6 billion in 2007. Driving that figure: The installed server base is expected to grow by 16 per cent to as many as 43 million machines worldwide; energy consumption per server is increasing by 9 per cent; and energy prices have risen by an average of 4 per cent, according to McKinsey. That, of course, means that if you're feeling some pain now from high energy prices or insufficient power, it's going to get worse if you don't make some changes.

25 per cent - The amount of the IT budget at a typical company that goes toward datacenter costs. Indeed, the datacenter is expensive to operate, with 17 per cent of the costs going to hardware and storage and another 8 per cent going toward the facilities that support those machines. Of course, the report notes that not all the facilities costs associated with maintaining your IT infrastructure appear in the IT budget, so it's conceivable no one at your company is really aware of how much it costs to run, say, a midtier server each year.

US$1,870 - The annual operating expense for powering and cooling a single midtier (US$2,500) server in a tier III datacenter. The number is US$1,320 for a tier II datacenter, and it reaches US$2,020 in a tier IV datacenter. According to the report, "servers are often housed in a higher tier datacenter than necessary, further driving facility costs." The point, of course, is that "cheap" servers really aren't cheap at all, so the "throwing hardware at the problem" approach isn't particularly sustainable.

30 months - The amount of time until 90 per cent of companies with large datacenters will need to add more power and cooling. That's two and a half years. Not a lot of time, is it? And if you're already out of floor space or drawing all the power you can from your local utility, you're in trouble. There also may be opportunities to unplug systems that are grossly underutilized.

5 to 30 per cent - That range represents the average utilization of the distributed systems in the datacenter today, which, according to the report, handle 80 per cent of all computing demands. It's a fairly broad range -- but even if you're running all your servers at 30 per cent utilization, you're still not getting as much work out of them as you might.

70 to 80 per cent -- The utilization of mainframes that handled 80 per cent of all computing demand from 1975 though 1985. It's an interesting statistic, certainly. Perhaps because these machines were so much pricier than "cheap" servers today, companies worked harder to get more bang for their buck. IBM will certainly make the case that mainframes today still offer higher energy efficiency than, say, multiple blades.

146 - Among a total of 458 servers at four production datacenters, McKinsey found that 32 per cent (146 in all) were running at or below 3 percent peak and average utilizations. That means nearly one-third of these machines were plugged in, wasting energy to spin and to be cooled -- and doing virtually no work. Those machines need to be put to work or unplugged.

15 per cent - The amount of cabinet space that can be reclaimed through techniques such as more efficient racking and the removal of servers that have been decommissioned yet still left in cabinets, turned on, according to McKinsey. Imagine being able to reclaim 15 per cent of your floor space. That should buy you some time before having to move forward with a costly datacenter expansion.

65 per cent - The reduction in physical server count you might expect through virtualization. Your mileage may vary, both for better and worse, but we've seen plenty of big wins through virtualization, leading to more floor space and lower energy costs.

55 per cent - That's the average amount of UPS, cooling, and other facilities that are underutilized in a datacenter. It's not just the servers and other IT hardware draining the juice and the bottom line.

74 degrees - The temperature to which cold aisles can be set in datacenters. Most datacenters are overchilled, which is costly. Adjusting the temperature, along with some inexpensive basic best practices, can put a dent in those cooling bills.

Beyond the cost savings you stand to reap from bringing green practices to your datacenter, there are also environmental considerations. Whether or not you're concerned about your company's carbon footprint, legislators are becoming increasingly interested. Here are more figures to chew on:

0.3 per cent - The percentage of CO2 emissions worldwide produced by datacenters today

0.6 per cent - The percentage of carbon dioxide produced by the airline industry today

1.0 percent - The percent of carbon dioxide produced by the steel industry today

170 metric tons - The amount of CO2 that datacenters worldwide currently produce per year. (As an interesting point of comparison, that's more CO2 than the entire country of Argentina produces in a year, which totals 142 metric tons.)

670 metric tons - The amount of CO2 that datacenters worldwide are expected to emit annually by 2020

Costs, environmental impact, and government interest -- what other motivators do you need to realize the urgency of adopting greener IT strategies? Hopefully these numbers provide some perspective on where things stand and where they're possibly headed.

Finally, I recommend checking out the McKinsey and Company report I've discussed here, which is available for free through the Uptime Institute Web site. It contains plenty of useful guidance on dealing with these problems.