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Three ways to save
IDC's Reinsel says IT power savings can be found in three main areas: the data center layout, hardware and software. In the data center, users should look at logistics such as redirecting air intake, hot-cold aisles and cleaning out underneath the array floors.

Reinsel says MAID and solid-state drives are two smart hardware options for green-minded hardware buyers, but determining ROI with these technologies is a challenge. "MAID, that's a hard one to figure out," he says. "You're talking about different levels of power for each tier, and that becomes another difficult task." And while solid-state drives hold particular promise in high transaction environments, they also present a challenge.

To deploy solid-state drives or MAID, you need to understand your data mix and its storage requirements. "It's become a very laborious exercise for end users," says IDC's Reinsel. He named Compellent as a vendor offering the type of automated tiered storage that contributes to green data center storage. LSI Corp., which makes storage systems sold by IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. among others, is "probably one of the most energy-efficient storage solutions out there when you look at IOPS per watt, bandwidth per watt," says Reinsel.

From a software perspective, says Reinsel, users should look at compression and data deduplication, although measuring

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tangible ROI can be difficult with deduplication because the dedupe ratio varies widely depending on the file types.

That's precisely the problem Mark Bramfitt, principal program manager of customer energy efficiency at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Company, currently faces. "Fundamentally, I'm buying kilowatt hours [to rebate customers] and I'm buying kilowatt load reduction from customers, and I need to be really clear on how much I'm buying. We think data deduplication has the potential to contribute, but I can't accommodate it in my rebate right now." Storage and server virtualization, thin provisioning and MAID are among the technologies on the PG&E rewards list.

Meanwhile, Larry Freeman, NetApp's senior marketing manager for storage efficiency, has been working on a proposal to bring to PG&E to show "how they can calculate how you gain energy through deduplication." For NetApp, dedupe is the hook to a longer list of functionalities the company offers in its pitch to customers. "The key for NetApp with deduplication is that we provide it through all tiers of storage," says Freeman. "It's about fewer watts per usable terabytes." However, he says, "PG&E has a legitimate challenge."

For example, "if I can unplug something, then I can measure it," says Freeman. "But squeezing the disk down by 95%, well, that's still consuming the same amount of watts. Deduplication is a form of delayed gratification. If I dedupe my storage over time, I'll gain efficiencies because I won't have to buy as many storage shelves."

In the last few years, Copan Systems and 3PAR have announced PG&E programs that provide financial incentives to customers whose data center storage projects show energy savings. It's a good sign, says Bramfitt, that the IT industry is grasping the significance of the energy shortage.

"We're doing a lot better than we were two years ago, but it's frustratingly slow," admits Bramfitt. "Two years ago, we'd give presentations and the audience was dumfounded. They'd ask 'What does energy efficiency have to do with me?'" he recalls. "The IT guys don't pay the [facility] bills typically, so they don't have any real reward for making wise purchasing decisions."

Performance and reliability will always rank first and second on IT priority lists, concedes Bramfitt. "But I want energy efficiency to be number three, not number 17."

This was first published in October 2008

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