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Is there such a thing as 'Green' data centre?

Mark Monroe has a simple solution for any data center manager, especially those new on the job who aren't exactly sure which of the servers is hosting which application, and which people are using which application on certain servers.

It's also an ecologically- and economically-friendly solution: Just shut them off, he says.

"Yes, just shut all those mystery servers down if you're not sure what function they serve," Monroe, Sun Microsystems' director of sustainable computing, said Sept. 18 during the Data Center World show here.

"You'll get an e-mail soon enough from the people who were using the server," he said. "Then you can just switch it back on, no problem. After about 90 days, if you don't get an e-mail or a phone call, then you know you don't need that server, and you should take it off the system."

Monroe said idle servers use nearly as much power draw as those that are active, power that is being wasted if the systems are left running while they're not being used.

"This isn't rocket science," he said. "It's all about data: Understanding your facilities, figuring out what to fix, and figuring out how to fix it. Turn things on when you need them, turn them off when you don't. Easy first steps."

Simply doing the shutdown drill as often as possible—automation software for this purpose is available from several companies, including Cassatt, Scalent Systems, Asigra, Onaroa and Hewlett-Packard—is the most effective way to save power and cooling costs, he said.

Data centers—especially those with large numbers of servers in racks—tend to morph over time, Monroe said. About 70 percent of all servers run only one application, Monroe said, and after a new system is added to an application, it usually is later not used at all or is redeployed elsewhere.

People who use that server then come and go, and eventually the application that runs on it becomes outdated. If the IT staff isn't paying attention, these boxes often continue to run, wasting power.

"When we started looking closely at our big data centers, we found that somewhere between 8 percent and 10 percent of our servers had no identifiable function," Monroe said. "There was no program running other than the operating system that we could tell."

He said Sun staff went through the asset databases and found these servers were basically orphans.

"So we turned them off and waited to see if anybody complained," Monroe said. "We shut them off and waited until we got an e-mail. Our success rate in turning those off is something higher than 60 percent."

Overall, he said, the Santa Clara, Calif., company discovered that 504 of its 4,300 servers could be turned off without impacting anybody.

Another easy way to save power and cooling costs over the long run is by turning the temperature up slightly in the center itself.

"You can save about 4 percent on cooling energy across the board by raising the thermostat just one degree," Monroe said. "Most data centers tend to set their temperatures anywhere from 68 to 72 degrees, and we find that about half of them are around 68 to 70. Servers—especially the new ones—can operate at much higher temperatures now; some can run well at 112 degrees. Now that might not be too comfortable for people to work in, but the point is this: Don't be afraid to turn up the thermostat a bit and save money."

Another money-saving idea that can be relatively easily implemented: Plugging holes in the walls, ceilings and floors of the data center to make sure no cool air is escaping.

A medium-term solution would be to rework sections of the center to include higher density machines, Monroe said.

Being vigilant about keeping a data center operating on as low power as necessary and load-balancing the application needs with available servers leads directly to savings on the organization's bottom line, and the sooner the better, Monroe said.

"The word is beginning to get around [about these hard-cost savings]," he said. "I'd say that between 60 and 70 percent of our [Sun] customers are aware of this, but haven't done anything about it yet; about 20 to 30 percent are already eco-aware and are running green data centers; and that about 5 to 10 percent are unaware or don't understand the significance."

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