Forrester: Ways to cut data centre energy costs

As the global economy is recovers, pent-up business demand for new apps and market initiatives is driving server investments. Forrester finds that 25 per cent of organizations expect server spend to grow by five per cent to 10 percent, and six per cent expect it to grow by 10 per cent or more. And to reduce operating and capital costs, improve disaster recovery, and accelerate time-to-market for new apps, organizations are turning to server virtualization.

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But a new motivator to expand and improve the use of server virtualization is bubbling to the surface: reducing energy consumption. Why? Forrester finds that there are three primary motivators:

• Financial. The costs to power and cool a server over its life may actually exceed its purchase price. Virtualization reduces the overall energy consumption of your server footprint, thereby allowing the same workload to run on fewer physical, energy-consuming servers.

• Resiliency. To ensure that uptime and service-level agreements are maintained, virtualization alleviates out-of-space, power, and cooling constraints.

• Green. Virtualization reduces the overall server footprint and cuts energy-related carbon dioxide emissions as well as the electronic waste from purchasing and then disposing server equipment in the future.

To cut server energy costs by up to 65 per cent and exploit your energy savings potential from virtualization, Forrester recommends three process improvements:

1. Increase your overall virtual-to-physical server footprint.

There are significant opportunities for organizations to increase their overall virtualization footprint across all server environments and platforms. We found that, while approximately 90 per cent of firms are virtualizing or planning to virtualize their servers, only 37 per cent of their x86 operating system instances are virtual servers. In two years time, this is expected to increase to 65 per cent.

Additionally, the extent of virtualization varies significantly based on the server environment, and the platform. The first step to maximizing energy savings is to increase the overall virtualization footprint across all environments and platforms. To ensure you're actually saving energy, be sure to turn off or decommission servers that are no longer running any workloads. Forrester's Green IT maturity assessment methodology prescribes the following virtualization targets to achieve one of four levels of green IT maturity: 1) Needs improvement (1 percent to 25 per cent virtualized); 2) Improving (26 per cent to 50 per cent virtualized); 3) Robust (51 per cent to 75 per cent virtualized); and 4) Best-in-class (76 per cent to 100 per cent virtualized).

2. Maximize your virtual machine to physical host and utilization ratios.

Virtualization alone is not enough. In addition to increasing the overall server virtualization footprint, drive additional energy savings by virtualizing more efficiently. Server virtualization ratios are not keeping pace with modern hardware and virtualization platform capabilities. It's common to break even on the purchase of a new server with a 4-to-1 virtual machine (VM)-to-physical host ratio, but most servers can accommodate 15 VMs. Virtualizing more efficiently can help you avoid three new server purchases, not to mention the additional power, cooling, and space expenses from this new equipment.

A key ratio that administrators use to determine the acceptable number of VMs per physical host is server CPU utilization. There is a direct relationship between CPU utilization, VMs per physical host, and energy savings. A standalone unvirtualized server might run at an average of 10 per cent to 15 per cent utilization, whereas virtualized servers could theoretically approach 100 per cent. However, Forrester finds that most administrators are hesitant to push the utilization of their physical host servers beyond 25 per cent to 50 per cent - limiting both the number of VMs per physical host and energy savings potential. Underutilized servers still consume considerable amounts of energy.

If you increase the number of VMs per physical host, you can decrease the total number of physical servers and reduce energy consumption. As server teams become more comfortable with higher server virtualization utilization ratios, they can safely add more VMs per physical server without diminishing service levels.

3. Source more energy-efficient servers and architectures.

Sourcing more energy-efficient servers and architectures may be your only remaining option to reduce energy consumption if you've maxed out virtualization ratios or realized that youre going to need higher-end server infrastructure. Energy consumption will be higher on a per-server basis - but total server energy consumption will be lower due to the reduced number of overall servers. If your risk tolerance doesn't allow you to push the limits of virtualization ratios, then these more efficient server environments may be your only viable option.

Forrester recommends seeking newer models of the same servers your organization already purchases. The simple act of server refresh will reduce server energy consumption. New server architectures, such as blade systems and converged infrastructure, are not only more energy-efficient by nature but also facilitate aggressive virtualization.

The energy savings can be impressive, as noted by a VP of an online services company who said about his converged architecture: "We achieved 70 per cent space savings, 25 per cent operational expense savings, 30 per cent to 40 per cent heat dissipation improvements, and 40 per cent power savings."

Doug Washburn is an Analyst a Forrester Research, where he serves Infrastructure and Operations professionals.

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Read more about data center in CIO's Data Center Drilldown.

Tags data center energy costsvirtualizationConfiguration / maintenanceServer Virtualizationhardware systemsTechnology TopicsData CentreData CenterTechnology Topics | Data Center

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Doug Washburn

CIO (US)

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