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How Green Is Your IT?

If you don't know the answer, drop in on one of your data centres.

As a result, writes Christopher Mines of Forrester in a report published in March, “When we say green IT, most [of our] clients hear ‘data-centre efficiency.’ It’s top of mind for most clients because problems like growth or power capacity limits, and returns like energy cost savings, are highly tangible.”

As Sky’s Griffith puts it, “If IT infrastructure changes are well planned and well managed, you can cut CO2 and your overheads.” Good planning and management, in fact, led Sky to decide that it didn’t need to build a new, high-end data centre after all. Rather, its 14 centres are being consolidated into two, one in Chilworth, England and one in Schiphol, the Netherlands.

Matthew McDonald, head of Sky’s centralised technology services, says the convergence of three factors enabled the consolidation: server virtualisation, which allows several applications to run on a single server simultaneously; blade architecture, whereby several stripped-down servers are housed in a single cooling, storage and connectivity system; and right-sizing, ensuring that IT equipment is only as big and powerful as it needs to be.

So far, the consolidation under Sky’s programme has delivered an annual reduction of 563.5 carbon tonnes. A key to that success, says McDonald, has been the close work between the facilities and IT teams to ensure the technology changes designed to reduce energy consumption were properly implemented. Executive-level sponsorship of the project has also been important. “Sky’s Bigger Picture agenda, which is sponsored by [chairman] James Murdoch and the CEO, Jeremy Darroch, means we have got sponsorship right the way from the top of the organisation,” McDonald emphasises.

Less Is More

Consolidating data centres is a smart green solution. Using existing data centres more effectively is another, according to Steve Ault, a former data-centre manager at an online bank in the UK. As he sees it, spending £1m on new hardware for an existing data centre makes more sense than spending between £5m and £10m for an entirely new facility, the typical price range.

It was a conclusion he reached after it became clear that the bank’s two data centres were full of hardware that was driving electricity consumption — and energy bills — to record levels. If the hardware was being used to full capacity, Ault might have been able to justify the energy consumption — but it wasn’t. He estimates that of the 2,500 servers in the data centres, half were under-used. “The company grew so very fast that every new project that came along brought its own new hardware and new platforms with it. There was no real thought to how much of the hardware we were actually using,” he recalls. “We had servers that were doing a job maybe once or twice a day, so they would sit there ticking over but were still consuming power.”

Ault conducted an audit of how much energy each piece of hardware was consuming, both when fully operational and when on standby. It turned out that the company could save up to £150,000 a year in energy bills by replacing existing equipment with more energy-efficient hardware. Ault came up with a hit list of around a dozen changes the group could make. At the top of the list was scrapping two Sun Fire E10k servers, which held the company’s customer database. In their place would be two Sun Fire T2000 servers, touted by manufacturer Sun Microsystems as “the world’s first eco-responsible server.” Ault says the T2000s consume just 4% of the energy used by the old servers.

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