Earth Day 2017: How Are You Keeping Your Data Center "Green"?
April 21, 2017

Leon Adato

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The other day, I overheard someone suggest, "The data center is like a seed." I enthusiastically agreed, adding that with the right amount of water and sunlight, it can help an organization grow into a fertile tree, producing fruit year after year.

The person laughed off my snark "right amount of water and sunlight" comment, seeing how the right amounts of each for a data center to be successful is around zero. But the finer point, they said, still stands: data centers do need something to be successful — power and performance.

Data centers are one of the fastest-growing energy pits in the IT industry, and all that power consumption can have an adverse effect on the environment. But at the same time, data center administrators are under pressure to keep systems running at peak performance, which often means environmental considerations take a backseat.

So, in the spirit of Earth Day, which is Saturday, April 22, we recently asked IT professionals for the tips and tricks they're using to help keep their data centers as green as possible. Here are a few ideas inspired by the responses we got:

1. It may sound simple, but airflow is critical. Hot spots, dead spots, and vortexes can eat up air conditioning, so creating hot and cold rows to direct the air helps to keep things even and efficient. Also, keep the airflow of the fans in your appliances and switches in mind, because many manufacturers will offer fan kits that can blow in forward or reverse motion to match the needs of your hot and cold rows.

2. Take a lesson from cloud computing: in a virtualized environment, turn machines off when they are not needed. If a machine is up, it's burning energy and creating unnecessary heat, which is bad for both the environment and your wallet! This means you will need to monitor your virtual environment closely.

3. Consolidate by putting multiple functions on virtual machines, which will reduce the total number of machines. Fewer machines equals less energy output. We've reduced power consumption by 60 percent in the last seven years!

4. Here are a few ideas: reduce the number of physical servers; be strategic about physical storage backups; and for on-premises data centers, use motion lights that go off when you are not in the room. We're also trying to develop a series of magnets that will create energy and stay in perpetual motion, powering the entire planet, but I'm a few months away from having that ready. :)

5. There are highly innovative panels that draw power from an ancient secret power source. :) Seriously though, solar energy for powering data centers can go a long way. Although it's more of a long-term capital investment, alternate energy sources are great for both saving money and being green.

6. Monitor power consumption on raised floors. Using a monitoring tool, data center facilitators are able to get real-time and trending data on changes as a result of airflow, new units, or new equipment, so when changes are made, they're easily mapped to increased or decreased costs.

7. This is often a forgotten piece of the green data center conversation (which usually revolves around the physical infrastructure), but ensuring that all the software elements in your data center — from applications to virtualization to databases — are operating and at optimum efficiency can help. This really comes down to effective monitoring, along with using it to establish a baseline "normal" so you can work to make improvements.

8. Use Internet of Things data. Wireless sensor nodes help monitor temperature, humidity, sound, and other functions, and give you a lot of the info you need to optimize data center conditions. Why not know more than less?

9. Migrating some workloads to the cloud is a great way to increase the efficiency of your data center. Of course, not everything will be able to be moved offsite (resulting in hybrid IT), but even taking some advantage of the cloud — if done correctly — will produce benefits.

While we probably won't be seeing grassy floors in our data centers anytime soon (this is a good thing!), bearing these tips and tricks in mind will still yield a greener and more cost-effective data center. Regardless of whether you're working in an entirely on-premises data center (unlikely) or a hybrid data center, it's important to maintain an efficient and performance-driven environment for you, your end-users, your company, and last but not least, the environment, which affects all of us.

Leon Adato is a Head Geek at SolarWinds
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