Data Centers

Greening the data center: Consolidate your servers

Energy usage in the data center has become a prime target in efforts to reduce the carbon footprint or overall energy usage for organizations. There are numerous ways that you can accomplish this green goal. Scott Lowe tackles the low hanging fruit option that provides the quickest energy savings -- server consolidation.

Server consolidation projects are being undertaken in many organizations for a variety of reasons. These kinds of projects generally have a number of aims, including:

  • Replacing older hardware with new equipment.
  • Achieving better overall utilization of equipment in the data center.
  • Lowering total costs related to purchasing equipment.

Consider this: Today's multicore, multiprocessor systems are a far cry from yesterday's single-core behemoths. Modern servers accomplish their workload goals using less power than their older counterparts, even when running at full bore. Further, consider the usage pattern: These days, migrating those old, single application servers to virtual machines running in a virtual machine on new hardware is far from uncommon. The result: A load that would have required 10, 20, and even 30 servers can now be affectively run on just two or three machines in many cases. With a ton of hypervisor solutions available out there and with many of them being free, virtualization is the quickest way to achieve server consolidation goals.

In many cases, even a one-for-one replacement of old hardware with new can reduce overall energy consumption. However, by combining the workload from so many servers onto a single unit, a massive energy savings can be realized.

Obviously, it's not quite as simple as throwing in a new server, moving a bunch of workloads, and heading home for the weekend. In order to adequately support so many workloads on a single virtual host, significant storage space is often necessary. But even with the added power requirements of the SAN, most large server consolidation projects still realize major power savings.

Power savings alone is a great reason to undertake server consolidation projects, but there are other energy factors at work. Take cooling, for example. Is it cheaper to cool 30 old, inefficient servers or two or three new servers and a SAN? Unless you bought a SAN that takes up an entire room, I'm willing to bet that cooling needs can be dramatically reduced.

Consolidation projects don't have to stop at the data center. In fact, a case can be made for increasing energy usage in the data center. Think virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). By deploying low-power terminals throughout the organization and deploying a few more energy-efficient servers in the data center, organizations can realize similar green gains in the desktop infrastructure. In short, total cost of ownership for the desktop infrastructure can be reduced, which includes significant energy savings.  Suppose, for example, that you deploy 200 thin client terminals on user desktops, replacing 200 energy inefficient thick PCs. Suppose it takes five servers to support these 200 clients. Doing the math, you'll find that the total energy consumption of the five PCs and 200 thin clients is much, much less than the energy used by 200 regular PCs. You also get some of the other benefits of VDI, such as quick desktop deployment, thus lowering overall management costs, too.

Server consolidation projects are becoming more and more common. If your organization has yet to jump feet-first into server virtualization and consolidation, it's time to start looking. Further, consider the possible benefits of VDI. While not a fit for every organization, VDI can significantly lower costs, both direct and ongoing.

For additional tips on greening the data center, learn how to deploy shared storage with the right features.

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About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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