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Energy efficiency within reach at SMBs

Going green in the data center is one of today's hottest topics. And while being a good steward of the earth is desirable, the real impetus to green IT is its impact on a company's bottom line when it comes to power consumption. Some estimates indicate that 44% of a data center's operating budget is spent on power. In some cases, that percentage can reach 50%.

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Speaking at an event recently, an attendee raised his hand and said, "Please explain what green means to you because, from what I have seen from the other presentations, it means money!" He was right. All technologies have some type of cost impact, but becoming more energy efficient can be accomplished without breaking the bank and, in the end, will lead to cost savings.

Here are eight green tips small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) should follow to get the most out of their data centers:

1. Lose unnecessary cables. Most data centers have been around for 10 to 15 years and were originally designed for technologies that no longer exist. Compounding the problem is that many data centers have multiple layers of obsolete cabling. Trying to move air through a dam of unneeded cable makes your chiller or computer room air conditioning units operate at a much lower efficiency and for longer periods of time than they should. So the first thing to do is get rid of unnecessary cabling.

2. Get a handle on your actual power consumption. The old-school method for sizing uninterruptible power supplies and power distribution units was to look at the tags on the back of all power supplies. The truth is you will likely never hit that number. But if you're using more power than necessary, you're being wasteful. A simple amp meter and a qualified electrician can help you here. Your best option is to use a scalable power solution (same for cooling), to allow you to turn up what you need when you need it.

3. Consider your equipment options. Work with your equipment manufacturers to determine if there are lower power consumption options for the gear you have installed. For instance, older equipment can be upgraded with new power supplies IBM developed that consume less power. This single step could save you a lot of money -- up to 40% of what you're currently spending. Some equipment manufacturers require you to upgrade your equipment, but the cost of the upgrade may pay for itself rapidly in power savings alone.

Trying to move air through a dam of unneeded cable makes your chiller or CRAC units operate at a much lower efficiency.
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4. Turn off servers when they're not working. Many companies have systems and servers that only process payroll once a month or twice a month, but are kept running all month. What a waste! This could be true for several different application servers. In short, when servers aren't being used, they shouldn't be running.

5. Consider VMWare and other virtualization software. Just a few short years ago, application vendors were reluctant to use virtualization software because they weren't sure they could fix errors. The truth today is virtualization software has matured and many companies support its use. When you look at power consumption on a CPU from zero to 50% utilization, the power consumed is near linear in increase. However, if you can hit that sweet spot of 50% to 75% consumption, which virtualization allows you to do, there is almost no incremental power used.

6. Easy things! Install blanking panels in the front of your cabinets or racks where you don't have equipment. Scoot your racks together so you have a "united front" from the heat that is released to the rear. Install brushes, pillows or other approved blocking devices in your floor openings so you maintain your static pressure under the floor. If your switches have air intakes at the side, look at installing baffles that will channel the hot air into the rear of the cabinet. These are just a few of the simple and inexpensive steps you can take to save power.

7. Look at your cabinets themselves. Older cabinets were not built for today's electronics with respect to airflow. So you may want to replace the cabinets where your hottest equipment is housed. That's not to say you have to replace all of them, but replacing some may provide a benefit.

8. Be judicious with supplemental cooling. Use supplemental cooling only where it's truly needed. In other words, don't just toss another AC unit into a giant server room for the heck of it. Otherwise, you'll end up wasting more power than you save.

If you follow these steps, your SMB will realize real cost savings on power consumption in the data center in no time.

Carrie Higbie, global network applications market manager at The Siemon Co., has been involved in the computing and networking industries for nearly 20 years. Carrie has taught classes for Novell Inc., Microsoft and Cisco Systems Inc. certifications, as well as computer-aided design/computer-aided engineering, networking and programming on a collegiate level, and serves as the "Preparing your network for VoIP" site expert on SearchVoIP.com.


This was first published in November 2007

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