The Center of the Matter
By Tim Scannell
Kermit the Frog was right.
But despite the complexities of
being green--the expenses and the impacts on traditional I.T. strategies and
operations--an increasing number of technology vendors and users are taking an
eco-friendly approach to data center operations and planning. End users are
also starting to swing their purchase votes toward vendors that peddle
energy-conserving products that target mobile initiatives as well as
centralized mainframes and server farms.
Mobility is a large part of the
strategic infrastructure of an enterprise, although most companies have relatively
few servers to fully support mobile users and mobile applications, explains Rob
Veitch, senior director of business development at Sybase Anywhere. Many
companies are looking to add more servers to their I.T. mix but are restricted
by rising energy costs, as well as the costs of expanding existing data centers
or building new ones.
Sybase, for example, recently
announced an initiative to help its customer base use the virtualization
techniques and management capabilities that are inherent to its iAnywhere suite
of products; the goal is to reduce demands on server resources and thereby
reduce the power requirements of host data centers.
"By using the capabilities of these
mobile devices you are actually scaling down the power requirements of the enterprise,
since most processing is done in batch mode and across multiple systems," says
The idea for a more formal approach
to mobile energy conservation recently surfaced at a Sybase user group conference where virtualization was
a resonating theme, notes the
company's business development director. "Sybase is always looking for ways to
improve the efficiency of operations and be a good corporate citizen, " Veitch
If this sounds a bit self-serving
that's all right, since Sybase is not alone in its quest to put a green spin on
its gigabyte strategies. Sun Microsystems may very well be the Ed Begley Jr. of
computing companies, since it has been pushing energy conservation long before
motoring to work in a hybrid car became fashionable. The company has already
applied its energy-saving guidelines to its own data centers, replacing 22
outdated servers with 11 newer systems that run slower but can process more
tasks. This reportedly cut energy usage by more than 90 percent.
IBM is another long-time proponent
of energy conservation in data centers that practices what it preaches. Over
the past several years, the company has reduced or consolidated its mainframe
and server megacenters from 155 to about seven today.
A decade ago, IBM's data center
baggage included more than 15,000 applications. Today, it's closer to about
4,700 applications, says David Anderson, IBM's GreenZ Evangelist.
"The conventional wisdom in the last
century was that the distributed model was right because you had a lot of cheap
servers," explains .
Architectural mindsets changed, however, with advancements in CMOS design,
multiple core centralization, cooling techniques and, of course,
virtualization. "Now, the trend is to bring everything back to the centralized
computer and to do more with intelligent design and microprocessors. The
mainframe has evolved to become the hub of enterprise applications," he adds.
This sounds like a complete
about-face in terms of computer architectures a decade or two ago, when distributed
computing was all the rage--although
insists IBM has never "taken its eye off the ball" in terms of mainframe
computing. The problem with distributed servers, he says, is that most are
incredibly under-utilized, with many operating at as low as 5 percent or less
of their potential.
All of this adds up to an incredible
waste of energy and resources, as the EPA pointed out in an August 2007 report.
An increasing demand for computer resources has led to a significant growth in
the number of data center servers and a doubling of the energy required to
power and cool these vast server farms. The results are skyrocketing energy
costs for businesses and government, an increase in emissions and greenhouse
gases and a sizeable strain on the existing power grid.
Processing Pecking Orders
Like other vendors, IBM looked at
what was happening in its own backyard when it decided to scale back on its
computing megacenters and bring computing home, so to speak, by making use of
centralized mainframe solutions. Anderson and others on his green team
evaluated some 16,000 servers throughout Big Blue's organization and determined
that nearly 9,000 could be eliminated by migrating applications and servers to
more powerful mainframe platforms. About 3,900 servers were retired in the
first wave, as computing resources shifted to mainframe and more efficient
blade server platforms.
Putting things in numerical
perspective, at the beginning of 2000 IBM had less than 3.5 million MIPS
(millions of instructions per second) of mainframe capacity installed. By the
end of the first quarter of 2007, this figure had risen to more than 11 million
MIPS, or nearly a fourfold increase, says an IBM spokesperson.
The greening of Big Blue recently
led to a more formal plan that kicked off in May 2007 called Project Big Green,
a $1 billion per year effort that targets corporate data centers worldwide and
involves hundreds of energy architects who are hell-bent on conserving energy in I.T. data
This effort follows a union struck a
year earlier with Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems called the Green
Grid Alliance, which was more of an education and awareness-building effort
than an ecological call-to-arms.
Whatever the host structure, some of
the most significant impacts of green computing efforts may come when
eco-friendly tactics are applied to a mobile workforce, says Sybase's Veitch,
who views the millions of enterprise mobile devices as the new model for
energy-efficient distributed computing.
"We see a renaissance in distributed
computing being driven by a need to provide enterprise solutions at the point
of work. You have a lot of data being generated at remote locations," Veitch
continued. "You never want to bring that into a single mainframe environment,
but should have the appropriate amount of distributed computing power that
smooths and filters stuff out before bringing it back to the enterprise." //
Tim Scannell is president of
Shoreline Research, a Boston-area consultancy.