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Interview with the Author of "The Green and Virtual Data Center"

If you follow me on LinkedIn, you might have seen that I had been reading a new book that came out at the beginning of the year titled, "The Green and Virtual Data Center" by Greg Schulz.  Rather than writing about a specific virtualization platform and how to get it up and running, Schulz takes an interesting approach at stepping back and looking at the big picture.  After reading the book, I reached out to the author to ask him a few more questions and to share his thoughts with readers of VMBlog.com.  I know I'm not Oprah's Book Club, but I think everyone here will enjoy this book.

 

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VMBlog.com: Greg thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us.  To start things off, can you give VMBlog readers a quick synopsis about yourself and your background?

 

No worries, my pleasure Dave. Mine is a varied background having spent part of my career working in IT organizations in roles ranging from programming and systems development of business systems to operations, systems performance and capacity planning, along with disaster recovery planning across mainframe and open systems servers, storage, networks, hardware and software including at an electrical power utility, transportation and financial services firms.

 

I also spent time in the vendor world in various roles ranging from pre-sales and systems engineering to marketing, business development and technologist roles on an international basis with different firms. Later transition I joined an analyst firm covering storage and data management technologies before launching StorageIO in 2006.

 

VMBlog: And if you don't mind me asking, what inspired you to write this book now? 

 

Several things inspired me to write the book including the itch to do a second solo book as it had been a couple of years since I wrote my first solo book “Resilient Storage Networks” (Elsevier). I had been doing a lot of work in and around convergence technologies (servers, storage, I/O networking, hardware and software) as well as power, cooling, floor-space and virtualization or what are commonly known as Green related topics. Hence with all of the activity around Green, I saw some trends that if were able to time things right, this new book would come be available just as the industry shifts from the initial hype phase to that of initial adoption.

 

I saw the need to shift the discussion from green carbon footprints and offsets to one of business and economic sustainment. Likewise I saw some other patterns and trends including life beyond consolidation, leveraging virtualization for other activities to boost efficiency, enable IT optimization and agility.

 

Another thing that caught my eye was that there were plenty of fine works pertaining to different technologies, or technology domains, or vendor centric material, yet there was a missing piece of tying it all together. That is, a book that would compliment and co-exist with other works. There was also the need to provide a vendor and technology neutral framework and means for developing strategies to address various aspects of IT optimizations and Green themes for IT organizations, as well as for sales and marketing as well as technology development groups within manufactures organizations.

 

VMBlog: Your book covers a wide list of technologies, solutions, and reality checks for people in the data center.  When you were writing this book, what type of audience did you design the book for?  Or what groups did you have in mind while writing this?

 

The book is designed for a diverse audience, both for those in IT organizations that need to develop strategies or implement the technologies or to help justify initiatives and achieve business backing and financial support. The book is also designed for those looking to sell or provide services to IT organizations, to cut through and eliminate the green gap that has existed between marketing rhetoric and customer issues.

 

In the time leading up to deciding to go ahead with the book as well as during the writing of the book, I had the pleasure of traveling around the world meeting and talking with people from both the customer and vendor, as well as media, other analysts and consultants to listen and hear what was working, what was not, where the real issues were.

 

During the writing of the book, I also had the chance to do dozens of keynotes and other seminars in addition to data center tours, hundreds of briefings and other activities, all of which gave me a chance to test material, try it out, see how it resonated as well as round the book out with feedback on content as well as the flow and themes. In other words, the book was not written in a vacuum or by doing research by simply reading the latest trade rags or popular blog sites.

 

VMBlog: When people think about the green data center, many assume it starts and stops with virtualization.  What else do they need to know about the green data center of today and tomorrow?

 

Virtualization is just one of many different techniques and technologies that can be used to transform and evolve an existing data center or establish a new green and virtual data center. For example, virtualization is most commonly thought of an associated with being used for consolidation of servers or storage.

 

However virtualization can also be used for emulation to bridge old techniques and technology with new such as enable new disk based virtual tape libraries to seamlessly integrate with existing backup software and procedures, or using virtualization as an abstraction layer to enable BC/DR, data and application movement or migration of data for maintenance, upgrades, load-balancing and resource tiering among others.

 

In addition to leveraging the many different facets of virtualization beyond consolidation, there are other technologies including upgrading to higher density, faster, energy efficient servers that combine 80 plus power supplies, intelligent power management (IPM), adaptive voltage scaling (AVS) or other techniques for throttling processing speed based on work to be performed while meeting quality of service and other performance requirements.

 

Certainly tiered resources including tiered servers such as blade servers, tiered storage, tiered networks and data access as well as tiered data protection combined with data footprint reduction are on the list of techniques and technologies for enabling a green and virtual data center.

 

Data footprint reduction includes traditional data management along with archiving of data (both compliant and non-compliant), compression of data (on-line and off-line), data deduplication for backup or other in-active or low performance types of data, thin provisioning, space saving snapshots as well as different RAID levels also come to mind. Don’t forget about habitats for technology, which are the physical facilities and associated power and cooling issues as areas where an assessment should be performed.

 

Another technique can be to mask or move issues for example sending data or applications to managed service or cloud providers. Keep in mind however that cloud and managed service providers still rely on physical servers, storage, I/O and data networks as well as facilities, people and software to implement and thus can be thought of as another tier of IT resources.

 

Finally, don’t forget about infrastructure resource management (IRM) topics that include change control and management, configuration and provisioning of resources. This also includes data protection management such as backups, BC/DR, HA and data footprint reduction. Capacity planning across different technology tiers is also important as are measurement and metrics to monitor how efficient the Information Factory is being run.

 

VMBlog: Technologies have evolved and advanced a great deal over the last few years, in your experience, what is the biggest thing to take place to change the way we look at, design and operate today’s data center in the last year?

 

From a business standpoint it’s the current economic recession, yet, there is no corresponding data or I/O networking or processing recession taking place. That means there’s a squeeze of having to do more with available or decreasing funding levels. The other is the realizing and recognition of the green gap and that green hype and green wash are on the endangered species list, that green is really more applicable today in most environments in the context of power, cooling, floor-space from a business sustainability standpoint than from a carbon footprint story.

 

I’m continued to be amazed by the number of people I talk to when doing seminars, keynotes or in other meetings that when I ask if they have green mandates or requirements, very few do. However, when I ask if they have power, cooling, floor-space, budget and related economic barriers to business sustainability, the need to process more, store more, move more, the answers are over whelming yes, thus the green gap and the realization that IT optimization and green for economic purposes are one and the same. Tied to that is the realization that we can’t simply keep throwing hardware at problems as there is a corresponding footprint cost in terms of management, power, cooling and so forth.

 

Likewise, there is a growing trend toward realization of life beyond consolation, as well as to start boosting utilization of software license if not consolidation of software license. After all, consolidate 100 servers to a few physical servers running vm’s and how many operating system or layered application and utilities licenses have been saved or eliminated? That’s an opportunity to go back and find ways to reuse or recoup some of those licenses.

 

Likewise I hear often about how environments think that they cannot be virtualized as their applications cannot be consolidated or that they cannot use storage virtualization as their storage cannot be consolidated for performance, QoS, security, vendor support, politics or other reasons. This is where there is a disconnect and thus opportunity for vendors and vars to close the green gap and reaffirm that virtualization can be used for much more than just consolidation.

 

VMBlog: Virtualization and server consolidation were supposed to answer and help with power consumption in the data center, but is that enough?   

 

Great point, however it’s not enough, after all, there are the many different faces or facets of virtualization including emulation, abstraction and transparency that enable business agility and flexibility for servers, as well as storage and networking. Likewise, not all applications or workloads, both from a server or storage standpoint lend themselves to being consolidated. Thus there is a huge opportunity for virtualization beyond consolidation to help address economic and other business issues.

 

On the other hand, consolidation is only part of the equation for achieving an efficient and green data center. For example, there is also swapping out older, slower, power hungry technologies with newer, faster, physically smaller, less power hungry technologies with greater capacities to do more work in a smaller footprint. There are also things like intelligent power management (IPM), adaptive voltage scaling, and the shift from energy avoidance to energy efficiency.

 

Then there’s data footprint reduction, there is HVAC (Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning) not to mention EH&S (Environmental Health and Safety) topics. Let’s not forget, on average, 50% of power in a typical data center is for cooling. Thus, the more improvements that can be made to cooling, the more you can either reduce your power budget, or, for growing environments, use the power savings to support and sustain growth. Also, the most efficient place to cool is as close to the heat source as possible, of course, doing more work with less energy also results in less cooling.

 

VMBlog: What was the hardest chapter to write?

 

That’s a tossup, in terms of actually doing the work, probably chapters 4, 5, 6 and parts of 7 as they were written while traveling on a family tour of Norway last summer where my father in-law Dr. Veryln Anderson was presented the Norwegian St. Olaf medal by an emissary of the King of Norway which was pretty cool to witness. Thus those were hard to write from logistic standpoint writing on planes, trains, busses and hotel lobbies during the middle of the night while everyone else slept, and then getting cat naps during the day while touring the fields and fjords of Norway.

 

In terms of content, getting started is always a challenge, as is wrapping up once you get momentum going as when working on a project. I would say the overall hardest chapter was probably #3 or #4 given the vast amount of content that could be covered, yet, limiting to stay in the balance of the chapter footprint.

 

VMBlog: Did you learn anything about the green and virtual data center while writing the book that you didn't already know before you started this project?  And if so, what was it?

 

Yes, absolutely, one was that the green gap or disconnect was larger than I had originally anticipated it to be both in the US as well as around the world. As with any new technology or technique hype cycle, people become tired of hearing for example green washing themes and stories, add to that confusion around the green gap, and no wonder there has been redundancy or skepticism around going green.

 

What I also learned however was that for those who cross the green gap, there are real issues to be addressed by vendors and service providers, and for IT customers, there are real solutions to what’s on their to do lists including addressing power, cooling, floor-space, IT optimization, sustaining IT and business growth during tough economic times while maintaining or improving on QoS including performance and availability. Some other themes that became clearer were that while many organizations are moving towards the 1st wave of virtualization, that is consolidation, many more are waiting to realize the benefits of the 2nd wave which is life beyond consolidation to leverage virtualization to enable business agility and IT infrastructure optimization or data center transformation of which we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg of what virtualizations full capabilities and deployment opportunities are or will be in the future.

 

I was also surprised at the focus on reducing hardware, yet not as much focus on reducing operating systems, applications or other software licensing and maintenance costs; however that’s starting to change. Moving forward, there are some great opportunities for reusing and redeploying surpluses software licenses to either reduce cost, or, do more with what you currently have.

 

VMBlog: Any final thoughts that you’d like to leave the readers with?

Sure, look at shifting from tactical to strategic, look at how virtualization can be used beyond consolidation for both servers and storage, use a variety of different technologies to address different tasks at hand, tiered servers, tiered storage, tiered data protection, tiered data access and tiered facilities not to mention different tiers or levels of virtualization.

 

Tiered virtualization I’m sure will be spun by some creative marketing folks however the essence is that not all virtual machines, their guest operating systems and applications need to have all of the same underlying functionality or service capabilities. For example, some applications and thus their VMs may not need the robustness of a full VMware ESX environment instead relying on basic VM capability while others will fully leverage all advanced features. Thus, I’m starting to see some environments leverage low cost, plain vanilla VMs from different sources for low cost, low QoS or lower tiered applications, saving premium VMs and their robust functionality for premium or top tier applications.

 

Keep in mind that cloud based services are just another tier of IT resources and thus can be leveraged to compliment and co-exist with other technologies, however, cloud services also need to be included in BC/DR and other operational plans. After all, both virtual and cloud environments still rely on physical hardware, software, polices, best practices and people. Gain insight into how effective an environment is and how resources are used.

 

VMBlog:  Are there any Web sites or places that you suggest people go to find out more information about the book?

 

Of course VMblog.com as well as my own blog www.storageio.com and companion websites www.storageio.com and www.thegreenandvirtualdatacenter.com, or for twitter, there is www.twitter.com/storageio. Oh, and check out my events page (www.storageio.com/events.html) as to some of the locations and venues where I will be speaking about various themes and topics related to “The Green and Virtual Data Center” and IT optimization.

 

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I'd like to thank Greg Schulz for speaking with me and for taking time out to answer a few questions.  If you'd like to purchase the book, you can also grab it at Amazon. 

Published Friday, March 27, 2009 6:21 AM by David Marshall
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