Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cutting energy use in data centres - Case Study

A QUICK flick through the annual reports of the largest corporations here and overseas shows that many captains of industry have been bitten by the climate change bug and most will finger technology for a share of the blame.

For those companies' suppliers the pressure is mounting to ensure that products meet the green-friendly prerogatives of Fortune 1000 and ASX200 members, or contracts may be on the line.

At Macquarie Telecom the pressure is acute, with the Department of Environment and Water Resources and the National Water Commission among its customers.

"Multinationals, large corporations and government agencies are very mindful of it and spend time with you to understand your green credentials," Macquarie Telecom hosting managing director Aidan Tudehope says.

"We are more at the stage today where it's a contributing factor to the decision, so I don't think it's a veto criterion, but it absolutely will become one."

Fortunately for Macquarie, the sustainability push coincides with the company's own efforts to pare back its impact on the environment, which Tudehope says started purely as a green concern but is emerging as a cost-saver for the business.

Macquarie, like most big corporate and government IT users only kicked off its eco-friendly campaign in the past year, but Tudehope says it has been able to score some early wins, including a 6 per cent reduction in power consumption at its hosting centre in just two months.

"Last financial year was the start of the program and this financial year it hits very strongly in our operating plan," Tudehope says.

Macquarie is exploring a range of information technologies, such as virtualisation and new server hardware to drive down energy consumption, but there are a few basic first steps organisations can take, Tudehope says.

Those steps include metering individual server racks to measure electricity use, and finessing the design of the Macquarie Intellicentre hosting facility's cooling systems, which both contributed to the 6 per cent energy saving.

"The IT space is a heavy consumer of energy and therefore has a significant carbon footprint," Tudehope says.

"If you can't measure and monitor something, the chances are you're not going to change whatever it is you want to change."

The metering has confirmed generally held views that the biggest consumers of energy are data centre cooling, and the computer power unites and storage systems inside servers.

Cooling and server operations are tightly linked and companies such as Macquarie typically consume 1kW of power in cooling for every kilowatt used to run computer equipment.

According to Tudehope, Macquarie has taken a number of steps to make its cooling systems more efficient, including plugging gaps between floor tiles so chilled air running beneath the facility is only pumped directly into server racks.

The company has also set aside commonly held assumptions about the best temperature at which to operate gear.

"There's often a view that you need to have a computer room running at 16 degrees Celsius," Tudehope says.

"IT equipment doesn't need to run at 16 degrees, it is very happy running certainly into the low 20s and for some items even into the mid-20s. For every degree you increase the temperature, there's an immediate impact on your carbon footprint."

Macquarie has also begun to turn the screws on its suppliers as it moves to consolidate early gains and increase energy savings resulting from green IT strategy.

The telco expects to decide a major server contract in the next few weeks that will account for a big lump of the Intellicentre's $6 million a year capital budget, and Tudehope says environmental concerns are important in the tender process.

The company is also deploying VMware virtualisation technology that will deliver benefits, including reduced power consumption.

"There's a lot of vendor hype in the marketplace and numerous vendors are very clearly articulating their green credentials. We've had to understand those credentials and how we can benefit from them because there is no standard matrix through which you can easily compare one server manufacturer against another."

Environmental concerns weighed heavily on Macquarie Telecom as shareholders and customers looked to the company to establish its green credentials.

In the first phase of the eco-friendly IT strategy Macquarie installed electricity metres on server racks, raised operating temperatures and tweaked cooling designs.

Over two months the company reduced its facility's power consumption by 6 per cent.