The Green Scene

How companies might save money in the datacenter while protecting the environment

How companies might save money in the datacenter while protecting the environment
Illustration by Steven Lyons

Fortune 500s. Mom and Pop shops. It doesn't really matter what size an organization is; they may be facing the same power-consumption issues, especially as they pertain to their datacenters. Temperatures have to be set and maintained to best keep the room and its contents cool. But the cost associated with this can quickly spiral out of control.

As a recent report, "Worldwide Server Power and Cooling Expense 2006-2010 Forecast," from the research firm IDC notes, some $26.1 billion was spent in 2005 "to power and cool the worldwide installed base of servers." According to the report's author, Jed Scaramella, "This is more than double the cost from 10 years ago of $10.3 billion."

Whatever the cause for this - most likely a growing number of servers and an increase in the price of the juice needed to cool those servers - it's clear that powering and cooling datacenters has become a hot issue. In fact, according to the same IDC study, "Over the next five years, the expense to power and cool the worldwide installed base of servers is expected to grow four times compared with the growth rate for new server spending. This expense is equal to 70 percent of the overall new server spending in 2010." This can mean fewer monetary resources for IT departments to help the overall goals of the organization, with less money to spend on new servers, networking devices, software, personnel, etc.

Thankfully, organizations can take steps to help keep their IT energy costs down. For example, they can upgrade their servers to new, more energy-efficient ones, such as those running the new IBM* POWER6* processor, which consumes the same amount of power as its POWER5* predecessor while offering twice the performance; consolidate their servers, whether physically using LPARs or virtually, putting computing environments into the same if not smaller server footprint.

Whatever the case, it's clear that in today's world, in which climate change is becoming increasingly worrisome to many, individuals and corporations are working to make sure they're doing their part. As Vikram Mehta, president and CEO of Blade Network Technologies, puts it, "CIOs need to make environmentally responsible architectural decisions. This is because our children and grandchildren will live with the environmental consequences of the decisions we make today."

A Bottom-Line Perspective

Some organizations studying the increase in power consumption in the datacenter point to servers as the primary culprit. This is in part because so many of them are in use - and their new, beefed-up processors are running hot. As a result, some datacenters are requiring dramatically increased cooling capabilities. A few years ago not many IT managers were expressing concern about the additional costs associated with this.

But the aforementioned IDC report states that power consumption is now one of the top five concerns facing IT managers, coming before even interoperability, scalability and availability. "From a pure bottom-line perspective, people are starting to spend more on the cost of powering and cooling the datacenter than on hardware and software," notes Barb Goldworm, president and chief analyst with Focus Consulting.

Although people are finally taking notice of this trend, questions remain, including why it's happening. The answer to this isn't as clear-cut as many would like. Some point solely to an increase in the price of power, with power providers citing a short supply and thus a higher price. Although there may be some truth to this, that may only be part of the equation. It also may be because many more servers are in use today than even five or six years ago, some of which have more powerful processors that are running much hotter than they had in the past. Some projections expect heat loads of current and future server systems to grow by 25 kilowatts to 35-plus kilowatts (see Figure 1).

"If you're consuming less power, you're generating less heat and you're requiring less cooling. If you require less cooling, you're throwing fewer toxins into the atmosphere." -Vikram Mehta, president and CEO, Blade Network Technologies

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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