Green IT: How to reduce network energy demands

Companies are faced with the twin threats of escalating energy prices and customer examination of their green credentials. Meanwhile, the network is always on and always eating power. William Knight investigates the route to green networks.

Companies are faced with the twin threats of escalating energy prices and customer examination of their green credentials. Meanwhile, the network is always on and always eating power. William Knight investigates the route to green networks.

Analyst firm Gartner estimates that IT is responsible for 2% of the world's carbon emissions, and the network is coming under increasing scrutiny for its carbon footprint. Employees are asking awkward questions about sustainability, and green activists are intent on publicising unsustainable practices and threatening exposure if you are not pulling your weight for the environment.

Networking is much wider than first thoughts might suggest, says Steve O'Donnell, managing director of ESG (Enterprise Strategy Group) Emea, "It is not just the local area, it is also the metropolitan and wide area networks that we have to connect all our enterprise systems together.

"You might switch off the odd PC, but generally the network is always on. People have failed to recognise the difference between always available and always on," he adds.

Yet O'Donnell recognises that times are changing. Not only have suppliers discovered the marketing opportunity in all things 'green', but 'green' is very often, and conveniently, synonymous with cost-cutting.

Telecoms is a good example, says O'Donnell. "Some firms have started doing some smart stuff. Take home broadband where the voltage between the modem and the exchange can be reduced when the network is quiescent. Typically at night, the voltage reduces and that can dramatically reduce the electricity used by the telco."

Such technology is invisible to the user, and by self-monitoring, devices can help reduce their power consumption.

"Look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves," says O'Donnell. "Shutting down little bits here and there, and doing it automatically so that you don't have to remember to switch it off, adds up and it makes a big difference."

Powerful turn off

D-Link, a manufacturer of networking devices for SMEs, introduced power-saving desktop devices in 2007 and has slowly expanded its 'D-Link Green' range, says Chris Davies, general manager for D-Link UK & Ireland. "The range provides dynamic detection of cable lengths, reducing the power needed accordingly. The switches also react when a device attached to it is turned off, by placing the corresponding port in standby mode, which requires less power."

Getting the switches accepted has been a matter of education, Davies says. In the past, network managers have had little incentive to measure the power consumption of their devices, and have not therefore checked the power rating on purchased equipment.

It is vital that IT departments are aware of their own power consumption, says David Vale, information services director for the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA). "The monthly power consumption has become part of my operational dashboard, which I would not have done before. In all my previous organisations I have never reported power, but we are beginning to do that."

His new-found province is a result of a six-month programme to consolidate the organisation's servers and reduce its carbon footprint (see box, NPSA strives for sustainability). Taking responsibility for the power consumption of the network is an incentive to make sustainable choices and construct green strategies.

But ESG's O'Donnell points out that companies must fully understand their network inventory before they travel along more ambitious green avenues. "Ten per cent of all IT equipment has no practical use. To find these orphans you must first carry out proper asset management on your network. Pretty much every enterprise has network links, wide area network links and internal networks that don't do anything any more."

For a large proportion of companies, reducing the network's environmental impact is not about technology, it is about managing processes and discipline, he says.

Measure up and power down

O'Donnell says that convergence and consolidation of IT equipment through virtualisation is phase two, followed by automatic configuration and dynamic provisioning.

Enterprise networking company F5 offers solutions that automatically provision and de-provision server usage. Technical director Owen Cole explains how this is bound up with demand to dramatically reduce power consumption. "If a datacentre runs 100 applications each requiring 10 servers, those applications need 100% uptime 24/7, 365 days a year. However, between Friday at 10pm and Monday at 6am you still need those applications to be available and resilient, but user demand drops off dramatically. We can decommission eight of these 10 servers, but if hundreds of users try to log in, the architecture can provision the resources to service this demand."

F5 is combining application demand with a dynamic network infrastructure to reduce power consumption, but reductions can also be achieved through policy.

Network equipment supplier Cisco is rolling out its Catalyst range of switches to include EnergyWise, a feature capable of monitoring and controlling power consumed by Cisco peripheral devices according to the time of day, user interaction or electricity tariffs.

With the first phase, we control power-over-Ethernet Cisco IP phones and Cisco wireless access points, says Ian Foddering, senior systems engineering manager at Cisco. "You can shut them down, or put them into a hibernate state to reduce the power consumed by those devices outside of core business hours. A facility manager can get real-time visibility of the energy being consumed by IT endpoints and use the network as the control platform."

Cisco is working with other suppliers to extend the EnergyWise concept to other devices connected into the network. "PCs, laptops and servers can be controlled based on policy defined by the administrator, containing the energy consumed in the network," says Foddering. "We have a number of customers in the US that have energy tariffs capped, and to exceed the limit means an exponential rise in cost. You can select less business-critical endpoints and power them down to bring consumption in line with the tariff."

Green acceptance

But still organisations must be willing to walk the green walk. D-Link's Davies explains the struggle. "The first job we had was educating the market on green networking. No one was talking about green issues in the networking environment, so no consumers had considered networking as an area where they could save power or contribute to the corporation's environmental strategy.

"The public sector has got the most evident criteria for carbon footprint reduction, but most enterprises have a corporate social responsibility remit that will include the environment in some way. The policies should be passed down through their own human resources teams, IT teams and manpower to take green technology seriously."

Gartner reports in Green IT: The New Industry Shock Wave that few enterprises, and even fewer IT management teams, have truly grasped the scale and speed of the shockwave that is likely to hit them when legislation and environmentally-minded consumers get into full swing.

The network might be business-critical, but its environmental impact can, and will be, drastically reduced.

NPSA strives for sustainability 

The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) has already halved the number of servers in its datacentre and reduced electricity metered by 50%. It is presiding over an ongoing fall in power use, which David Vale, information services director, believes will ultimately save 75% on the utility bill, with growth for two to three years still available without any increase in power consumption.

The agency maintains over three million records of safety incidents in the NHS, generally reported anonymously by practitioners. "About one million patients are treated every day in the NHS. We encourage reporting and feed learning back into the NHS, either quickly for urgent issues or through quarterly data summaries," says Vale.

Being a government body, all projects are required to support a "sustainable agenda", he says. Sustainability is a primary concern and is a cultural norm within the agency. "We don't use the word 'green', but there is a Sustainable Development Programme that includes a desktop power management project, a print management project, video conferencing and web conferencing."

But the bulk of the power savings come from decommissioning power-hungry boxes through consolidation on virtualised servers. As part of a disaster recovery programme, and working with Computacenter, Vale has enabled fast fail-over, reduced the agency's environmental footprint and slashed both cost and complexity.

While creating a green network was not the primary goal of the project, Vale stresses that the agency's Sustainable Development Programme forced management to consider power consumption and other resources up front, well before the project was initiated.





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