Data Centers

Virtualize everything?

The concept of the "green" enterprise has gained traction in recent months as corporations trip over each other in the marketing race to become the greenest of all the greens.  Personally, I do think that green initiatives are worthy and that we're in trouble as a civilization if we don't change our ways.  According to the EPA Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency, in 2006, U.S.-based data centers consumed more than 60 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, accounting for 1.5% of the nation's electrical demand.  The report projects the following possible trends:

  • If we maintain historical trends for additional power, data centers will require more than 120 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.
  • If we maintain today's server and infrastructure efficiency, data centers will require almost 110 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Now, since I write the storage blog, here are some stats from the report regarding electrical usage of storage devices:

  • In 2000, storage equipment in data centers consumed 1.1 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, or 4% of overall data center power use.
  • In 2006, this percentage grew to 5% of data center utilization, but the consumption skyrocketed to 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours!

At the same time, the amount of electricity dedicated to "volume servers," (defined in the report as those costing less than $25,000 per unit) jumped from 8 billion to 20.9 billion kilowatt hours, or, in 2006, 34% of data center electrical usage.  The only larger slice of power went to site infrastructure.

The report identifies three scenarios that can result in a better future with regard to data center power consumption:

  • Improved operation
    • Would reduce electrical consumption to 80% (84 billion kilowatts hours) of 2011's projected use based on current server efficiency.
    • Volume server reduction at a ratio of 1.04 to 1 for server closets and 1.08 to 1 for other types of space. 
  • Best practice
    • Would reduce electrical consumption to 55% (47.7 billion kilowatts hours) of 2011's projected use based on current server efficiency.
    • Volume server reduction at a ratio of 1.33 to 1 for server closets and 2 to 1 for other types of space.
  • State-of-the-art
    • Would reduce electrical consumption to 44% (33.6 billion killowatt hours) of 2011's projected use based on current server efficiency.
    • Volume server reduction at a ratio of 1.66 to 1 for server closets and 5 to 1 for other types of space.

Each of these scenarios calls for a 7% reduction in the energy requirements for each storage drive as well.  Of course, there is a whole lot more to be done that some simple virtualization and consolidation.  The report names a number of specific infrastructure areas that need to be addressed in order to achieve the results outlined for each scenario.  However, one thing is abundantly clear.  Virtualization in all of its forms -- server, storage, etc. -- is a critical component to any green strategy moving forward.  As a result, the need for better and more storage will increase in order to support these initiatives.

Personally, just in thinking about my own small data center, there are a number of things we can do to reduce the load on the power grid.  In fact, we have already undertaken a project to reduce the heat output in our data center.  We did this by virtualizing a few of our older, less efficient servers onto a single server.  There are eight VMs running on that one server.  Over time, we will study this report in very close detail to determine where we can do our part to reduce power demand and have less of an environmental impact.


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...


My Company has taken the "Green" Initiative in its products and Infrastructure. I have been looking to virtualizing our server room from 10 servers to only 2 more for a DR point of view. This article helps bring more fact to the table to justify the cost and show potential pay back over time.


I joined and interesting virtualization company a couple years ago, Racemi ( We virtualize all the infrastructure required by an application (network, server, operating system and storage) and create an image that can be deployed in the time it takes to boot. During the boot, we configure the environment (network, storage and server), load the OS and HW drivers, and launch the application. Since the HW layer is transparent to the application, the image can be deployed or relocated at will, allowing applications to use whatever power is requred at the time, increaseing system utilization sometimes by 5x, which in turn, reduce the footprint required to run you applications equalling substantial savings by doing more with less. For more infpormation got to our website mentioned above.

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