I recently got asked to do an interview on for TechWeek Europe about green initiatives in the IT industry. However let’s be honest, computers burn a lot of power, require a lot of power to make and are made of some nasty exotic compounds and chemicals, so they aren’t going to save the planet by themselves. However a few years back everyone was talking about Green IT, and more properly sustainable IT, and while that topic is no longer trending, we don’t seem to have done anything about it and Green Fatigue has set in across IT .
Looking at what has been happening in the data centre then good work has been done, but not in the name of green IT. For example server consolidation has meant physical servers are better utilised now; they are typically running 10+ VMs each rather than idling at 10%. We have also got better at cooling those servers, but this has sometimes been driven not by a green initiative but because of the cost of power and the capacity available from the power supplier in a particular location.
Later versions of virtualisation technologies always make best use of the latest hardware but swapping out server hardware to get the benefits of the latest CPU or networking has to be balanced against the cost of making the new server and disposing of the old one, so you’ll want to focus on how you can extend the life of your servers possibly by just upgrading the software.
Virtualisation by itself can also cause more problems for the environment than it solves because while you have achieved some consolidations you may well end up with a lot more VMs that aren’t doing much useful work. Effective management of those VMs is the key to efficiency for example:
- Elimination of Virtual Machine sprawl. Typically this shows itself as a spread of numerous dev and test environments, and the only way I can think of to check this over use of resources is to charge the consumer for them on the basis of what they have committed to use so chargeback or at least showback.
- Dynamically optimising a workloads based on demand – Reducing the capacity of low priority under used services or stopping them altogether to free up resources for busy services without needing more hardware.
- Extreme Automation to reduce the number of IT guys per VM, these reduces the footprint per VM as each member of IT uses energy to do their work and often has to travel to work so if this can be distributed across more VMs than that is more efficient.
These three things are actually all key characteristics of clouds so my assertion is that cloud computing is more environmentally efficient, without necessarily being Green IT per se. Given the fact that public clouds operate at much greater scale and efficiencies than what is possible in many internal data centres1 plus they are often located specifically to take account favourable environmental conditions all of which means they are greener than running services in house.
So we are getting greener, it’s just we don’t call it that, and no doubt no that we are fed up with the word cloud as applied to IT we’ll change that to something else as well.
1 Internally a Microsoft Global Services defines a data centre having more than 60,000 physical servers