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Cassatt Survey Finds Massive Data Center Energy Waste in Development and Test Centers, but 59 Percent Would Consider Turning Off Idle Computers

Nearly two-thirds of IT and facilities personnel consider their data center energy efficiency “average” or worse – and their development and test environments might be the biggest cause of that, according to a survey conducted by Cassatt® Corporation, a leader in providing software to make data centers more efficient.

More than a quarter of survey respondents said that greater than 60 percent of their development and test servers are idle during off-peak hours.  There is some good news, though:  62 percent are working on a data center energy-efficiency project now or expect to within the next year, according to the “Cassatt 2008 Data Center Energy Efficiency Survey.”   And, contrary to conventional wisdom, 59 percent would consider turning off computers that are idle.

As expected, virtualization ranks highest on the energy-efficiency project list, with 69 percent of respondents pursuing a server consolidation/virtualization strategy, and nearly 49 percent pursuing storage consolidation/virtualization.  But, while nearly half of the companies (46 percent) say they need a payback on energy efficiency projects in less than two years, organizations are primarily pursuing consolidation, which is frequently a longer-term project.

More than half of respondents recognize the importance of using more efficient equipment, but only a quarter (24 percent) have plans in the works to improve the efficient operation of that equipment with approaches like active power management software to shut off unused servers. Even though the survey shows server power management to be a missed opportunity for many organizations, a significant number are looking to complement their long-term energy-efficiency projects with innovative techniques designed to deliver compelling, short-term benefits.

“We conducted the ‘Cassatt 2008 Data Center Energy Efficiency Survey’ to learn more about the extent to which companies are pursuing energy-efficiency initiatives and the rationale behind the ones they choose,” said Bill Coleman, chairman and CEO of Cassatt Corp. “Many of the findings were expected, such as those that emphasize the data center power crunch, the popularity of virtualization as a potential solution, and the massive waste in development and test environments.

“Less expected,” Coleman continued, “and very problematic for the industry, are the findings that show that many companies simply don’t measure their power consumption at all, or do so at a very superficial level.  If you can’t measure it, as they say, you can’t manage it. And it may be that companies are fixing only part of the problem with initiatives based on incomplete information. While organizations are showing a willingness to try some new ideas, many are still ignoring simpler solutions that could help them with energy efficiency almost immediately.”

Justifying Turning Off Servers to Save Energy

Are companies that are engaging in complex, long-term, costly server consolidation projects based on virtualization also thinking about simple steps, like turning their unused servers off?  According to the Cassatt survey, some are – which goes against conventional wisdom in IT operations today.  In fact, 59 percent said that, yes, they could justify turning off servers for some period of time.  When asked how many hours each day a server needs to be idle to justify turning it off, 11 percent say one to three hours, 20 percent say four to five hours, nearly 16 percent say five to seven hours, and nearly 11 percent say eight to 10 hours. Forty-one percent say they cannot justify turning a server off.

While a solid majority of respondents are willing to consider turning off servers they aren’t using, only 24 percent are pursuing server power-management software as an energy-efficiency strategy today. On the face of it, a solution like server power management is an extraordinarily simple strategy, like turning off the lights when leaving a room.  What’s holding them back?  Companies cite a range of reasons, including “impact of turning off idle machines on application availability” (45 percent), “application stability when shut down and restarted” (42 percent), “impact on physical reliability” (36 percent), “difficulty determining ROI for a power-management solution” (28 percent), and “lack of integration into existing systems management tool” (26 percent).

Nevertheless, many companies say they are willing to try automation to power-control their servers, though they are most comfortable doing that in development and test environments.  Forty-three percent say they would be comfortable with automated power management for a majority of their development and test servers, and 37 percent say they would do this for low-priority production servers.

Nearly 51 percent of all companies, and over 69 percent of large enterprises, are installing more power-efficient servers today—the second most popular energy-efficiency strategy, after server consolidation/virtualization, according to Cassatt’s survey.  Power-management software can automate the process to actively and safely power both older and newer servers on and off as needed, adding significantly to an organization’s energy efficiency results.

“While the fears about turning off servers may have had some validity in the past, they are unfounded when looking at the reliability of today’s hardware and the new power-management software that is now available,” said Coleman. “The Cassatt Active Response software, for example, is policy-based, application-aware, and hardware- and software-independent, so it can safely and systematically turn servers off when not needed and on when they are, with zero impact to application users. Our work with initial customers leads us to believe that organizations who see beyond these old data center myths can slice their power costs by anywhere from 30 to 50 percent.”

How Big Is the Data Center Power Problem?

The Cassatt survey also showed that many data centers are on the verge of running out of the power they need to operate. According to Cassatt’s survey, 42 percent of respondents have a data center within 25 percent of its maximum power capacity. And the problem is getting worse:  of the 69 percent who track their power bill, 62 percent state their bill is rising.

A large number of data centers are in the dark about exactly how acute their power problem is, according to the survey. When asked “How do you measure power consumption in your server environments?” more than a fourth (28 percent) say, “We don’t.” And those that do, have limited visibility into exactly what is using the power. Nearly 24 percent measure by groups of servers at the power distribution unit (PDU) level, 23 percent by the server room, and 16 percent by the rack of servers. Only eight percent have visibility into power consumption by individual server.

The Cassatt survey uncovered several other notable points:

  • “Green” motivation = money:  Cost and capacity constraints are the two strongest motivators for an energy efficiency strategy, cited by 68 percent and 57 percent of respondents, respectively.  Even so, 39 percent of companies are motivated by environmental responsibilities.
  • IT and facilities still aren’t talking much:  Almost half of respondents (46 percent) said their facilities and IT teams touched based infrequently, not at all, or they weren’t sure how often.
  • Self-serving advice?:  End users say they get their primary guidance regarding data center energy efficiency from parties with a stake in their spending – system vendors (49 percent) and power and cooling vendors (46 percent).  Other experts, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Uptime Institute, and the Green Grid, ranked much lower.
  • Missing good advice?:  More than 38 percent of respondents are unaware that the EPA recommends turning off idle or unused servers to save power.

More about the Cassatt Survey

Cassatt requested participation in its 2008 Data Center Energy Efficiency Survey via an e-mail to unfiltered contacts from Cassatt’s contact database, directing them to a Web-based survey.  Results are based upon 215 IT and facilities personnel, mainly from North America, who took the on-line survey during a one-week period in December 2007 and who participated in telephone interviews in January and February 2008.

Published Tuesday, April 22, 2008 6:58 PM by David Marshall
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