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Gas Mileage and Server Sprawl

How server consolidation can help your business run on all cylinders

How server consolidation can help your business run on all cylinders
Illustration by Ken Edmondson

Back in the ’80s, an American luxury car manufacturer introduced a new fuel-saving technology called “cylinder deactivation.” Conceptually, it was pretty simple: Under conditions of lower vehicle loads, the engine-management computer deactivated up to half of the car’s eight cylinders by cutting off the fuel supply and ignition spark to two or four of the cylinders, turning the V-8 into a 6- or 4-cylinder car. Gas mileage improved—a little.

New technologies are traditionally introduced on high-end vehicles, which are better able to carry the increased R&D costs in their high-margin pricing. Problem was, the geniuses at the luxury car manufacturer never bothered to think through the market for fuel-efficient, high-end, large, high-powered cars. As it turned out, this was an oxymoron, as the typical luxury car buyer didn’t care about gas mileage and certainly didn’t need to worry about the money. Having a large, powerful, high-end car is a statement, and part of that statement was never going to be about saving a little gas, let alone the planet. The noble experiment flunked in the marketplace.

What’s that got to do with server sprawl and server consolidation? Server sprawl is kind of the opposite effect of cylinder deactivation. Servers have become so inexpensive (due to “learning-curve economics” prevalent in electronics manufacturing—think flat-screen TVs) that, for perhaps 15 years, the IT community has accepted that the easiest and fastest way to add new applications or new capacity was simply to install an additional server. So IT departments have been adding “cylinders,” most of which are only 10-to 15-percent utilized. Conventional wisdom says adding cheap boxes is easier than trying to extract more utilization out of existing inventory.

But with server sprawl came incredibly low average server utilization, high and growing electricity consumption (terrible “gas mileage”), and galloping administrative costs.

Fewer separate servers means a smaller footprint. This, in turn, means less electricity in and heat out.

Randy Watson is president of Midrange Performance Group (MPG), an IBM business partner and ISV providing performance management and capacity planning software and services for the IBM Power Systems platforms.

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