Can a private cloud drive energy efficiency in datacentres?

As more and more companies virtualise datacentres, we ask if stepping into a private cloud would really mean greater energy efficiency.

As more and more companies virtualise datacentres, Jenny Williams asks if stepping into a private cloud would really mean greater energy efficiency.

A private cloud tipping point will be reached by the end of 2012. According to Neil MacDonald, vice president and Gartner fellow, more than half of the workloads in datacentres will have been virtualised, providing the foundation for private cloud computing capabilities to cut datacentre costs and increase energy efficiency.

However, TechTarget’s Data Centre Decisions 2011 survey found 57% of UK and European users are not using or considering using private cloud computing over the next 12 months.

With so many private cloud infrastructure offerings on the market – from VMware’s vSphere to Microsoft HyperV and System Centre and new products such as Dell’s pre-packaged private cloud for datacentres, vStart 200 – are energy-efficient private cloud datacentres at an industry tipping point, or is it all merely market hype?

Virtualisation for private cloud

Virtualisation is being used to significantly reduce power usage in datacentres. According to Computer Weekly’s sister title, SearchVirtualDatacentre, Palmer’s College in Essex reduced over 20 IBM servers to three in a server virtualisation and datacentre consolidation project.

Greening Through IT

A major user of energy in the IT sector is the abundance of datacentres operated by organisations around the world, including corporations and academic institutions. According to Rich Lechner, IBM’s vice-president for energy and environment: “Energy use in datacentres is growing 12 times faster than worldwide energy use.” A key metric in streamlining datacentres is power usage effectiveness (PUE). A PUE of 1 is perfect (when all energy is used to drive computation). According to Bill Weihl, Google’s Green energy czar, a PUE of 2 is considered good in the industry, but Google maintains a PUE of 1.2 by building its own servers and datacentres, which is one of its competitive advantages. In describing the energy wasted in most datacentres, Weihl explains: “Servers waste, for no particular good reason, an enormous amount of power.”

Nevertheless, a PUE of 1.2 means that 16.7% of the energy is being used for purposes other than computation, much of it wasted. The GreenLight Project, at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, is seeking to address the environmental concerns that arise from modern datacentres. It is developing an instrumented datacentre that can serve as a test bed for better power management processes. Fortuitously, building new generations of supercomputers relies on better power utilisation, so the interests of developers of new kinds of computers are well aligned with the search for sustainable power. Bringing the whole industry toward more sustainable practices is the challenge, starting with examples such as Google’s and improving on them. On Google’s Green efforts, Weihl says: “The real issue here is one of scale… how do we do it in a way that is scalable and will work for everyone else?”

The Consumer Electronics Association has produced a sustainability report that provides an overview of how products are being designed to have smaller environmental footprints. “Among the highlights are companies developing more energy-efficient products, using recycled and easily recyclable materials to build their machines, and cutting back on materials used for packaging” (Wheeland, 2008). Additionally, there are numerous opportunities to make the way people use computers more sustainable. According to Lechner, for example, on average a single piece of data is saved thirty times in a given corporation, on various people’s computers, servers, and so on. Data deduplication software could reduce this redundancy and increase efficiency.

This is an extract from Greening Through IT:  Information Technology for Environmental Sustainability, by Bill Tomlinson, published by The MIT Press in February 2012.

The datacentre now uses VMware vSphere 4.1 servers and saves 19% of its capital budget by removing disaster recovery (DR) and server replacement costs.

“We save roughly another 80% on power compared to what we would be using if our servers were not virtualised,” says Dan Byne, IT manager at Palmer’s College.

Analyst Gartner believes private cloud platforms will further enhance server and storage virtualisation energy efficiencies. Private cloud platforms allow businesses to protect data using an internal, corporate network behind a firewall.

In a report titled Shrinking Data Centers: Your Next Data Center Will Be Smaller Than You Think, Gartner analyst David Cappuccio says private clouds and resource pooling enhance vertical scalability in the datacentre, while at the same time improving the productivity-per-kilowatt ratio.

By 2018, Cappuccio predicts data centres will take up only 40% of the space they occupy today, mainly housing core business services. Sanjay Mirchandani, EMC CIO and

COO, believes deploying a private cloud environment drives energy efficiencies. In 2010, EMC started migrating data from 47 older Clariion storage array systems onto 11 newer, greener Clariion arrays. The migration took two years to avoid application disruptions. Mirchandani says it would have only taken a few weeks to get the greener systems online if it had used a private cloud.

“At each point in the process of evolving from a physical old-school datacentre to a private cloud environment, you’ll be incorporating green efficiency enhancements related to power use, cooling, floor space recovery, storage, servers and the network,” he says.

Private cloud efficiency

London’s Hillingdon Council opted for a private cloud platform for its datacentre to cut costs and power consumption.

The council deployed a private cloud after virtualising its infrastructure of 180 servers in two locations, reducing the server estate to five. The council subsequently reduced its carbon emissions by 171 tons.

Roger Bearpark, assistant head of ICT at Hillingdon, says: “Hillingdon now uses 80% less power. The consolidated server environment has reduced energy costs by approximately £94,000 a year.”

Bearpark says its private cloud also allows the council to prepare for using public cloud platforms, as it does with Google Business Apps.

Limitations of private cloud

But not all experts are sold on the green benefits of a private cloud. Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO, says: “The Uptime Institute reports that most datacentres have a power usage effectiveness of 2.0. This means that, for every watt delivered to the servers, one is wasted in overhead.”

Companies must therefore be super-efficient to cut energy costs and usage for a private cloud housing data and applications. Gartner advises companies to virtualise as many applications as possible, using storage efficiency technologies such as data deduplication and buying servers that maximise space and power.

Alternatively, Accenture claims companies using a public cloud’s multi-tenant environment can reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by 30%, compared to running Microsoft enterprise applications on its own infrastructure.

Using a public cloud

Companies such as digital signage provider are using a public cloud from infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) supplier Rackspace, which runs its OpenStack cloud infrastructure platform.

Jason Cremins, CEO at Signagelive. com, says the firm previously had a private cloud infrastructure with dedicated replicated machines hosted in a UK-based datacentre. Now it has an infrastructure around six times more powerful for half the cost of the original set up and with the additional ability to activate and scale- down servers on demand, cutting costs and keeping availability high.

Companies such as Signagelive. com are also finding the pay-as-you-go and self-service payment model that IaaS encourages is significantly less wasteful.

Dirty energy powers the cloud

However, some experts believe the overall environmental benefits of cloud-based infrastructures are ultimately limited by cloud suppliers.

While companies such as Micro- soft, Google and Amazon have incorporated renewable energy into their cloud strategies, Gary Cook, Greenpeace’s international IT analyst, believes “dirty energy” is tarring the green benefits of the cloud.

“The rapid expansion of global tel- ecom infrastructure and datacentres that power cloud technology is driving significant energy demand, much of it from dirty sources such as coal and diesel,” he says.

Speaking at a TechTarget webcast on private cloud adoption in datacentres, Simon Campbell-Whyte, executive director of the Data Centre Alliance, said datacentres have changed dramatically over the past five to 10 years.

From servers running under your desk to virtualised environments, dedicated servers and cloud environments, he says many companies are still fearful of public cloud adoption.

While a public cloud environment may offer greater energy efficiencies compared to running a private cloud environment in-house, for companies concerned about data security and regulation compliance issues, a private cloud is a good option for cutting costs and power usage, providing its operation is hyper-efficient.

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