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Is storage top energy hog in data centers?

In 2008, storage will probably become the biggest energy hog in the data center, beating out application servers.

For all the talk about green storage, the power-saving initiative remains more of a server issue than a disk storage issue. But that may change quickly, due to the rapidly increasing rate of data growth and the continuing energy pinch.

When Kevin Kettler, chief technology officer for Dell Inc., conducted a power inventory of the company's primary data center, he found that while application servers were consuming 40% of the power, storage arrays were a close second, using up 37% of the power.

With application servers becoming more efficient, it's only "a matter of time before storage becomes the No. 1 consumer of power in the data center," said Nik Simpson, analyst with the Burton Group.

When market research firm The InfoPro recently surveyed network managers at Fortune 1000 companies, it found that issues such as heat, cooling and power have become the top pain point for these professionals. Although power management is only the 11th pain point on the storage side, managing director of storage research Rob Stevenson said, "People building new data centers are predominantly talking about storage as being a main area for power issues."

Still, green storage is more of a dollar issue than an environmental one. And while power and cooling issues are gaining in importance in the storage world, the strategies pursued by storage managers to become more environmentally friendly will likely continue to be driven by dollar signs.

It's only a matter of time before storage becomes the No. 1 consumer of power in the data center."
Nik Simpson
Storage analystBurton Group
"I'd love to say CIOs of the world are watchdogs of the planet, but we have a very selfish reason for green computing," says Sun CIO Bob Worrall. "That is, to save costs."

Worall said that Sun's recent data center consolidation will save more than $1 million a year in energy bills. This year, Sun finished moving from a 200,000-sq-ft data center into a new 76,000-sq-ft facility in Santa Clara, Calif. By eliminating about 5,000 old servers, network switches and storage devices, Sun estimates it reduced power consumption by 75 percent while increasing computing power.

"The whole concept of going green is not about tree-hugging," said Benjamin Woo, vice president of enterprise storage systems at analyst firm IDC. "It's about economics."

Power, cooling and floor space concerns

However, whether it's about economics or ecology, some companies may already be green without knowing it. Analyst Greg Schulz, founder of The StorageIO Group and a frequent speaker on issues related to green storage, has spoken to more than 1,000 users over the past few months about their green plans. And while no more than 10% said they have existing green initiatives, at least 80% said they're concerned with power, cooling and floor space.

Solving power issues makes sense from an economic standpoint. "Power and cooling have a direct correlation to the environment and energy," Schulz said. "In the U.S., we have a limited supply in electrical energy, and we have limited transmission bandwidth. You use what power you have more wisely, and you might be able to save money and be more efficient."

According to Schulz, storage-specific power-saving methods include:

  • Reducing the amount of data through archiving, data deduplication and compression
  • Tiering storage by using more power-friendly media, such as solid-state disk, newer high-capacity drives that store more data without using extra power and even tape
  • Improving storage management though thin provisioning and infrastructure resource management
  • Using storage virtualization to consolidate storage resources the way server virtualization helps consolidate servers
However, companies will be sure to weigh the costs of these solutions against the long-term savings and the impact they will have on efficiency. "If you want to save power, shut everything off and put it on tape," Schulz said. "But if you have data that's time sensitive and performance sensitive, that's a different story."

Cutting power consumption through data deduplication

Bob Dixon, chief architect at U.S. Army headquarters at the Pentagon, found a green benefit in reducing the number of his tape libraries. Dixon said that using data deduplication appliances from Data Domain Inc. helped cut power consumption for the Army's data center. But reducing power consumption wasn't the deciding factor in using the data deduplication technology, he said.

"Our footprint is one-tenth the size of the old tape library systems we used to use and replaced [because of data deduplication]," he said. "I don't know if it's a big issue, but we want to use our space, power and cooling capabilities wisely."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of energy consumed by data centers doubled between 2000 and 2006. The EPA also forecasts that power failures and brownouts will affect more than 90% of the data centers in the U.S., and half of large data centers will lack the power and cooling capabilities to run high-density equipment in 2008.

Nearly every data center can do things to help green its storage networks, Woo said. "There's no one solution to being green in the storage space," he added. "Different industries will have different requirements that dictate data retention policies. Even departments within organizations have different requirements."

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