The business case for green storage

Green is possibly the most over-used word of 2007, but the energy efficient message seems to have had little impact on UK businesses. According to research by advisory organisation the Green Technology Initiative, 70% of UK firms have no plans to reduce their carbon footprint.

Green is possibly the most over-used word of 2007, but the energy efficient message seems to have had little impact on UK businesses. According to research by advisory organisation the Green Technology Initiative, 70% of UK firms have no plans to reduce their carbon footprint.

It is easy to understand why green fatigue may have set in. Business and the general public have been so utterly bombarded with the green message that it has often appeared as hype, and it is difficult to determine what real benefits a green approach will bring, other than making one feel warm and fuzzy about being good to the planet.

The IT sector has not been immune to this greenwash, with many suppliers struggling to shoehorn an eco-friendly angle into their marketing pitches. Storage suppliers in particular have been keen to push the green message, but is it simply hype or is there some good sense lurking behind the spin?

Green hype versus good sense

Storage and datacentre power usage is a major cost for business. Gartner predicts that by the end of 2008, nearly 50% of datacentres worldwide will struggle to get sufficient power and cooling to support high-density equipment.

The analyst group also estimates that large corporations spend between 4% and 8% of their IT budget on energy and that this will increase by up to four times during the next five years - meaning 32% of IT budgets could be spent on energy by 2011.

In the light of such predictions, green policies begin to make more sense, says Claus Egge, programme director for European storage with analyst group IDC.

"If someone had only green intentions and nothing else, then I think they would reap many efficiency benefits and the only way they could get more would be if they turned off their IT systems altogether," he says.

"Conscious and responsible use of resources is obviously better than the opposite, and storage is prone to the green issue because disc arrays are always on, utilisation is far from impressive, capacity densities improve very quickly and customers buy and replace quite rapidly."

In fact, storage is an area ripe for energy and space savings. Lots of spinning disc is a power black hole and much of the storage installed in datacentres is wasted. It either lies empty or contains duplicate copies, and the operational price of keeping underused and wastefully used storage systems running around the clock is costly and unnecessary.

There is a lot of good sense in the green approach to storage, says Hamish Macarthur, chief executive at analyst group Macarthur Stroud International.

"Datacentres are highly concentrated centres of processors, storage arrays, network directors, switches and so on. They all need power and cooling and the higher density units and new processor technologies demand more energy.

"And often the supply of power to each datacentre can be limited, such as in the City of London. In some cases, 40% of the datacentre footprint is taken up with power and cooling plant," he says.

The green approach is not necessarily optional either. In many cases businesses are forced to comply with regulations concerning the disposal of equipment, such as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.

But, at the same time, by addressing power and cooling issues so that existing capacity is used more efficiently, you can get more work done with the same amount of kit, says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at analyst firm the StorageIO Group.

"By using storage that consumes the same or less power yet provides more processing or performance for the same amount of capacity and floor space, you end up doing more with what you have. The result is that you can free up power or floor space from other equipment and use that to support growth," he says.

Put simply, the benefits of a green approach are efficiency and cost savings. The more efficient you are, the fewer resources you consume. The less power needed to run a device the less heat it will generate, so less cooling is required, and reduced cooling requires less power.

"Power savings, less real estate and cooling are the obvious benefits," says Clive Longbottom, service director for business process analysis at analyst firm Quocirca.

"Less obvious benefits are better storage management capabilities and faster search and retrieval. Others include gaining a better understanding of the intellectual property that is held within an organisation as a result of doing the preparatory work for a rationalised, consolidated storage environment," he says.

Key elements of green storage

So, what should be the key elements of a green storage strategy?

Essentially the aim is to hold data with as great a utilisation rate as possible on storage assets that provide the greatest energy efficiency appropriate to their mission-criticality.

To begin with, you need to carry out a full survey of what data your business is storing and follow this with a consolidation and rationalisation project to determine data hierarchies and possibilities for eliminating duplicate or unwanted data.

You should look at how data can be best matched to storage resources, says Longbottom.

"Consolidation and rationalisation should look at how first-tier storage assets could be upgraded to the latest systems to gain efficiencies, but they should also look at how second-tier assets can be created through the re-use of existing devices as appropriate, with storage management minimising power requirements through automated power switching of systems," he says.

As part of this process Longbottom recommends storage assets be provided with an ageing profile, so that today's first-tier assets become second-tier assets as time goes on, then become third-tier or distributed assets further down the line.

The reason for doing this is that different storage media account for differing amounts of power and cooling consumption.

Tape is the least costly, but it is generally only suitable for archiving in a tiered storage architecture. Disc arrays are essential for online storage and back-up and recovery, but they are the most costly.

Benefits of disc-based equipment

Where possible, it is also worth looking at some of the more energy-efficient disc-based equipment, such as Maid (Massive array of idle discs) architectures, where only the discs that are being used are spinning and drawing energy.

Such a strategy has to include how changes in the storage market may accelerate the ageing profile, but it should also look at the cost-effectiveness of the strategy when issues such as the WEEE Directive are taken into account.

Finally, when a strategic approach aimed at lowering power consumption is being drawn up, attention should also be given to techniques that help minimise the duplication of data across systems. These include master data management, where key data is extracted from multiple databases and is kept in a single place, and data de-duplication, which gets rid of duplicate records held in multiple databases.

It seems then that when it comes to storage, green does indeed make good sense. Not only can such an approach help reduce power consumption and requirements on physical space, but the rationalisation that should accompany green strategy will also bring efficiencies in the way you keep data, by providing the opportunity to discover what you hold, eliminate duplication and store it on the most suitable assets.

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