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Wake up to IT's energy crisis, urges Gartner

Get free weekly news by e-mailOrganisations are under mounting pressure to develop ‘greener’ approaches towards their information technology (IT) practices, and chief information officers (CIOs) need to wake up to the issues of spiralling energy consumption and environmental legislation, according to Gartner. Although technology can help reduce the impact of some environmental problems, its potential harmful effect is receiving increasing attention from environmentalists and policy makers alike.

Gartner said two factors are particularly visible to policymakers; the direct issue of electronic waste and the potential impact - caused by the electricity that computers consume - on global warming.

“IT's age of innocence is nearing an end,” said Steve Prentice, distinguished analyst and chief of research at Gartner. “Technology's clean and friendly ‘weightless economy’ image is being challenged by its growing environmental footprint. While a growing number of regulations are already increasing the end-of-life costs for IT equipment, IT also has to face mounting concerns over spiralling electrical power consumption.”

The growth of power-hungry data centres, coupled with the rising cost of electricity, is focussing attention on energy, providing businesses with a double incentive to cut carbon emissions. According to Rakesh Kumar, research vice president at Gartner, during the past 12 months, there has been a significant increase in the deployment of high-density servers which is leading to significant problems in power and cooling for data centres.

Mr Kumar said, “The power needed for a rack of high-density server blades can be between 10 and 15 times higher than the power needed for a traditional server environment. Most legacy data centres built 15 to 20 years ago cannot meet this demand. At the same time, a similar amount of additional power will be needed to remove the huge quantity of heat generated by these new machines. If the machines are not cooled sufficiently, they will shut down, with potentially damaging consequences for business service levels and IT governance.”

Gartner said the electricity power needed for data centres is not the only issue. Power is also needed for technologies such as storage devices, networking controllers, uninterrupted power supplies and air conditioning. A realistic total figure for data centre power consumption is therefore at least double that used on servers alone.

Mr Kumar warned that overspending on power can have a considerable impact on the IT department’s ability to grow and meet business needs in the future. He said, “Today, energy costs typically form less than 10 percent of an overall IT budget. However, this could rise to more than 50 percent in the next few years. The bottom line is that the cost of power on this scale would be difficult to manage simply as a budget increase and most CIOs would struggle to justify the situation to company board members.”

Furthermore, Mr Kumar advised that legislation is imminent in both the European Union and North America that will penalise organisations with large data centres that do not put measures in place to better manage waste energy. In addition, growing activism in consumer markets will increasingly focus on such behaviour, impacting both the short term profitability and long term survival of the enterprise.

Gartner said organisations must take a coherent and holistic approach to developing the next generation of ‘greener’ data centres and that vendors must play a key role in enabling organisations to develop systems that can operate within targeted power and thermal limits. Most organisations feel they are unable to control the industry’s power and cooling trends, but Gartner argued this is not strictly true. As long as organisations control their spending budgets, they can influence vendor behaviour and they must continue to apply pressure on all vendors at all levels.

“The best answer to the power and cooling issues is greater design focus at the component level, coupled with the ability to manage power at a high level,” said Mr Kumar. “It will eventually be possible to implement systems that can operate within targeted power and thermal limits, although many of the components that will enable this kind of power management will not arrive in the next five years.”

In the meantime, Gartner’s advice to CIOs is to focus on improving the utilisation of existing equipment to delay moves towards high density systems. Organisations should actively seek power efficient products and make effective use of existing technologies like workload balancing and virtualisation to balance growing demand for compute power from the enterprise against escalating energy prices.

“If they need to use the latest servers, they should evaluate the energy requirements and see if their current data centres can host them,” said Mr Kumar.

Longer term, Mr Kumar counselled that IT organisations will need to take a more considered approach to data centre planning, ensuring that they are built in a modular way so that power consumption can be scaled with growth. He concluded, “The writing is on the wall for CIOs. Whatever way you look at it they have to take control of the impending power crisis and data centre management will be crucial to that.”

Furtherinsight on power consumption issues and the future of infrastructure will be presented at Gartner’s Symposium/ITxpo from 5-9 November in Cannes, France. For further information on Gartner’s annual flagship event please visit www.gartner.com/eu/symposiumfall

Date: 29th Sept 2006• Region: UK•Type: Article •Topic: Power management
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