Big green and big bang: IBM and HP move towards green data centres

This is a new comment from Graham Titterington, principal analyst […]

August 13, 2008

This is a new comment from Graham Titterington, principal analyst at leading global advisory and consulting firm Ovum, on IBM and HP going green.

Recent announcements from IBM and HP show that energy consumption in the data centre is now attracting high-level attention in both enterprises and IT vendors. Graham Titterington, principal analyst at Ovum, compares these two initiatives and puts them into a wider perspective.

Graham Titterington, principal analyst at Ovum comments. “IBM announced enterprise additions to its Project Big Green this week, a week after HP announced its Sustainability Laboratory. Both vendors have a history of interest in this area, but HP has achieved a higher profile for its efforts. The HP announcement included long-term data centre issues while IBM concentrated on new product releases to help in this area. However, there were large areas of agreement and overlap in the two presentations, and both said that energy use has become a high-level concern for enterprises, which will grow in importance. Both see an immediate opportunity for savings in energy use with a strong financial investment case through monitoring and intelligent control systems. IBM talks of the payback period from investments in this area being less than two years. Both back these claims with case studies, although at this early stage these are thin on the ground at present. The environmental payback period may be longer where this involves hardware replacement.”

The data centre energy problem

“The demands on information processing systems are growing exponentially. For example IBM expects server usage to grow six-fold and the volume of stored data to grow 70-fold over the decade – and these figures are consistent with Ovum’s research. Technology is delivering efficiency improvements, but these tend to be linear in nature. Consequently energy use by data centres is still rising rapidly. In the longer term we need changes in business processes, data retention practice and law, and a change in expectations. In particular the desire for richer presentation media is placing exponential demands on data centres, such as replacing pictures with movies. We need to question how much processing we do, and how much data we hold, and for how long. The present tendency to hold everything that it is technologically possible to hold will have to be challenged. We need systems that can store a single copy of a document and not replicate it multiple times across the organisation, without this placing complexity on users. If a practice is worth doing we will need to justify it by identifying balancing savings outside the realm of the data centre.”

HP’s long-term vision

“HP has demonstrated its commitment to long-term improvement in this area by designating sustainable computing as one of the five areas that HP Labs will focus on, and by including a project in its initial agenda to develop optical computing. This is an important element in its long-term objective of cutting data centre energy use by 75%.”

“The replacement of copper by fibre optic cable carrying laser signals will deliver major energy savings in data centre communications, and eventually in the processor chip. It will allow much greater density of processing within a single chip. HP has set itself a target of five years for delivering on this vision, which we regard as being at the optimistic end of the spectrum.”

The medium term – monitoring and intelligent control

“HP claims it has achieved a 40% energy saving at a new data centre it has recently built in Bangalore by deploying its ‘smart cooling’ technology. IBM claims similar savings in the short term by deploying its current technology including its new monitoring systems. Tivoli monitoring software has been extended from processor monitoring to include all aspects of the data centre facility. It monitors kilowatts of power consumption, and not just processor utilisation. It provides connections into several important business activities to make it an attractive proposition for business:

• green business services: for example detecting ‘brownout’ situations and invoking business continuity services
• intelligent chargeback: bringing business accountability into the picture
• optimising asset usage
• energy-aware provisioning, so that servers can be selected for each workload based on their ability to meet required service levels and minimise cost.”

“HP has shown a commendable attention to lifetime issues in its green IT agenda. This is continuing in the current announcement. It points out that the energy required to smelt bauxite into aluminium to make a server is equivalent to the energy the server will use in two years of its life. It is now embarking on a project to build up a database of lifecycle energy consumption to create a comprehensive database from which lifecycle issues can be more accurately evaluated. It promises to put the results in the public domain, and is appealing for partners to help populate this.”

The immediate future

“IBM is using this platform to attract attention to technical advances in some areas of its IT infrastructure products, such as improved storage products and its partnership with VMware to deliver virtualisation to its customers. Virtualisation can reduce hardware requirements by a factor of six, cutting hardware and operating costs in half. Energy costs can be reduced by between 10% and 40%. Of course this also plays to IBM’s strengths in providing suitable servers for virtualised environments!”

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