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Best Practices: Planting seeds of green

Adopting green storage practices is all about being a good corporate citizen, trying to save storage operational costs and perhaps making a positive impact on the environment.

When it comes to green storage, it's all about the basics. Review your current setup and start with the obvious.

Green storage sounds good, but for most of us it's a goal we'll keep reaching--and trying to reach--again and again.

If you aren't to the point where Energy Star stickers are plastered across your entire infrastructure, you aren't alone. But that doesn't mean you can't do something to get in line with the green movement. Little things matter. You can start by managing storage more economically, saving money and in turn doing a good deed when it comes to energy consumption.

Let me offer an analogy. When you fly over a city at night, you see a glittering matrix of lights. The bigger the city, the more things glitter. Imagine those glittering lights are your data center and that the most brightly lit area is your storage infrastructure. Your goal is to look at the glitter and manage it. Is all the glitter justified? Could you replace it with something not as bright? How about shutting off a section or powering it up only when necessary? What you want to do is "right size" your infrastructure, a phrase you're bound to hear a lot.

Right sizing your infrastructure starts with your purchases. If you tend to buy excess capacity as a reserve for the future, you should know it's more than just a one-time purchase and will lead to higher ongoing costs. Vendors will gladly sell you capacity. A lot of them offer "just-in-time" or "capacity-on-demand" solutions that allow you to quickly increase your free storage pool during times of crisis. But whatever you're not paying for initially may be bleeding your energy costs, as this last-minute storage purchase is basically hidden online storage. The disks keep spinning as long as they're present in the array.

Instead of falling into traps like that, strive to be more predictable. Perform a trend analysis and get some solid predictions as to when you'll need more capacity. Remember: Buying at the last minute will ultimately cost you.

Tiering for the long run
Spinning disks consume energy both directly and indirectly. They require energy to spin and generate energy in the form of heat, which then requires cooling systems that consume more energy. So the more spinning disks you have, the more energy you consume. But not all disks consume the same amount of energy. Fast, high-performance disks consume a lot more energy than their slower counterparts.

You can't expect the demand for more storage to vanish or lessen, and you can't expect storage vendors to come up with power-friendly devices overnight. I'm sure every disk or array vendor out there is looking for innovative ways to reduce the power-consumption footprint of their products. Some, like EMC Corp., have taken steps in the right direction by announcing flash or solid-state drives for their arrays. In addition, these drives are fast. When the dust settles (and the price comes down), these drives consume a lot less energy than their spinning counterparts.

In the meantime, one way to intelligently manage storage costs is to tier your data as much as possible. This isn't a magic solution; at the very least, it requires a lot of hard work. However, the use of lower performance disks (and the arrays that house them) can dramatically reduce the overall energy consumption of your storage infrastructure. Speaking of infrastructure, now is a good time to look at your storage islands. How much does it cost you to maintain old arrays? How does that compare to the cost of purchasing and managing new ones? Ridding your shop of old equipment and consolidating for the purposes of energy efficiency should be at the top of every storage manager's to-do list.


Thin provisioning
It's no secret that storage is often overallocated. An application requires 1GB, a database requires 2GB, the systems and database administrators require a buffer. Factor in growth and you wind up allocating 10GB. That's a huge waste. As the storage manager, you have little control over that wasted space. But what if you had an intelligent array that could spoof the 10GB and allocate only the 1GB the host truly needs with a promise to make that extra 9GB available should there be a dire need? Enter thin provisioning. Now instead of provisioning storage in a siloed manner, you can create "global" storage pools that all systems share or dip into as needed. Suddenly, the wasted 9GB can be put back into the global pool and used to overprovision other systems that (similarly) require it.

What about tape?
Trying to save money on backups is a topic unto itself. There's a big difference between spending on something critical and spending foolishly on something critical. Backing up the same data over and over again (and wasting a lot more tape and disk) isn't wise. If you have a gut feeling that your backups may not be efficient, you should examine how much you spend backing up data and ensure that whatever you do spend is spent wisely.

If you send many hundreds of tapes offsite each month, take a look at options for eliminating redundancies. Perhaps operating system images or application binaries are backed up more times than needed to restore the environment. Are log files and other types of disposable files being backed up? Be smarter when writing those "exclude" lists and policies. It's easy to implement and configure a backup solution, but it can be very difficult to configure it efficiently.

Invest in suitable deduplication technology. Like thin provisioning, deduplication has the potential to cut down the amount of data that gets backed up. But beware the pitfalls of virtual tape libraries (VTLs), which are nothing but a bunch of disk drives at the back end. When purchased without any deduplication solution, VTLs can be more expensive consumers of energy than older tape libraries. Right sizing your infrastructure should therefore apply to your backup infrastructure in the same way it does to your online storage infrastructure.

Examine your BC/DR practices
Business continuity/Disaster recovery (BC/DR) practices are a double-edged sword. Not having a BC/DR plan can be considered a big vulnerability in your company's IT strategy. On the other hand, its cost (and upkeep) can easily exceed its usefulness. I'm not discouraging anyone from implementing a recovery infrastructure--you should have one. Just don't be naive about it. Be creative but rational. Ask yourself how you can reduce what goes into that infrastructure and find ways to put this infrastructure to good use during its peacetime assignments so it's not just sitting there consuming energy. If you can move some operations to the remote/recovery site, then explore those options. If your recovery timelines are so relaxed that you don't need a hot recovery site, implement tape recovery. Just because everyone is implementing hot-standby recovery arrays doesn't mean you have to go along with the crowd. What's cool often comes with a heavy price.

Adopting green storage practices is all about being a good corporate citizen and trying to save storage operation costs in a rational way while making a positive impact on the environment. While the world talks about climate change, you can start examining the temperature of your storage operations. By the time solar or wind power fuels your data center, you'll need a new set of operating instructions.

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