Energy carnivores

Energy carnivores

You might call them the energy carnivores of IT, or the electricity gluttons of the digital world. As the corporate brains, memory and data repository of enterprises big and small, datacentres currently devour two thirds of a company’s overall IT budget.

Ask any CIO of a major multinational organisation what the current cause of their major worries is, and, financial crisis aside, most will point to their data centres.

These now complex facilities, which were born as ‘computers in the cupboard’ have spectacularly grown into major pain points for senior IT executives. Energy consumption, cooling, storage, design, systems and compliance—to name a few—are all challenging cost issues CIOs must now confront with their on-going data centre strategy.

Researchers say Global 2000 enterprises are now spending more than US$6.6 billion each year, to help manage the complexity and challenges faced by their data centres.

Overall, the world’s data centres help produce about two per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases, in the same league as the aviation industry, and these repositories of digital information are definitely facing an energy crisis. In the US alone, data centres consume some three per cent of America’s total power generated annually. This is enough to power the US state of Michigan (387 times the size of Singapore) for a year. Gartner maintains that energy bills traditionally account for 10 per cent of IT budgets, but soon could account for more than 50 per cent.

The research house calculates that energy prices are increasing by 20-30 per cent and will become the second most expensive line item after labour.

Frightening forecast

Currently, paying for power and cooling is one-and-a-half times more expensive than the cost of buying a server, according to the Data Centre Energy Efficiency and Productivity research by the Uptime Institute. It predicts that by 2012, just three years away, the worst-case scenario is that power and cooling bills will amount to 22 times the cost of servers—a frightening forecast.

Gartner has found that PCs and monitors produce about 39 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases, followed by servers, including cooling (23 per cent), fixed line telecoms (15 per cent), mobile telecoms (nine per cent) and local area network and office telecoms (seven per cent) plus printers (six per cent).

A single computer, left on 24 hours a day, will, according to EDS, a HP company, cost you up to S$224 (US$149) in electricity costs a year, and dumps about 680 kg of carbon dioxide into the world’s atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of about three sumo wrestlers.

Voracious hunger

According to research by NCS, the principal IT solutions provider to the Singapore government in the computerisation of the Singapore public administration, every time a physical server is virtualised in a data centre, it means four tonnes less carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere—equivalent to removing one-and-a-half motor cars from the roads.

Data centres’ voracious hunger for energy has prompted organisations to house data centres adjacent to rivers, to draw on hydro-electricity and even to house them on decommissioned ships in harbours to maximise cooling. Such innovation and creativity is being forced by the economics and potential savings.

Green IT has become such an issue that the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation (SiTF), which has some 400 corporate members, has assigned a pro-temp committee to consider introducing it as a brand new chapter. This adds to the eight existing chapters which include best sourcing, digital media, e-government, e-learning, security and governance, Singapore enterprise, service-oriented architecture ad wireless. The committee is headed by SiTF councillor, Teo Lay Lim, who is the Singapore managing director for Accenture.

Data centres are struggling to cope with the exponential growth of data being generated by the 21st century.

Research house IDC has found that the amount of information created and replicated each year will inevitably pose severe challenges for data centres. In 2005, there were some 100 billion GB of data globally; in 2010, it will hit 1,000 billion GB. The growth is adding a zero every five years. It is estimated that by 2010, nearly 70 per cent of the digital universe will be generated by individuals. Organisations will be responsible for security, privacy, reliability and compliance for 85 per cent of this data.

Predicted failure

In one research project last year, Gartner even predicted that, through 2009, more than 70 per cent of data centres would fail to meet operational and capacity requirements. Symantec’s 2008 State of the Data Center report, released in January 2009, did little to ease the data centre pain. It found that “data centre staffing remains problematic, servers and storage continue to be under-utilised and disaster recovery plans are out of date”.

This second annual report stemmed from a survey in September—October 2008 by Applied Research, canvassing 1,600 data centre managers in Global 5000 and large public-sector institutions in 21 countries. It provided little good news, finding that servers and storage continue to be significantly under-used. Companies said their data centre servers were operating at just 53 per cent capacity. Data centre storage utilisation was even lower at 50 per cent.

Not surprisingly, given the current financial crisis, the survey revealed a flurry of activity by enterprises seeking to increase utilisation in both areas.

Conflicting demands

The Symantec research found that data centre managers are now stuck between a rock and a hard place, facing more demanding user expectations for higher levels of performance, yet also under pressure to continually reduce costs.

Disaster recovery (DR) was another Achilles heel for data centre management. Just 35 per cent of respondents said their DR plan was “above average”, 27 per cent said “it needs work” and nine per cent reported that their DR plan was “informal or undocumented”.

Human error was reported as the major cause (25 per cent) of unplanned downtime, followed closely by hardware-software failure and power outages. This reflects an IDC research finding that “over the next five years—up to 2012—power problems are expected to disrupt data centre operations at more than 90 per cent of all companies”.

Gartner research says the top three sectors, measured by carbon emission intensity, are currently government, financial services and retail. The energy industry and manufacturing come fourth and fifth.

Government is number one, so they certainly have a lot of environmental order to bring to their own houses, while also providing a lead to the community.

Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) is putting its best foot forward in claiming success with developing environmentally-friendly IT. The LTA maintains it has saved more than US$5.67 million since embarking on a Green IT initiative, which includes collaboration with IBM, since September 2007, to implement an energy-efficient programme for the government body’s IT environment.

Going paperless

This includes a ‘going paperless’ programme, e-Services@LTA, where the authority says that portals, such as and LTA.PROMPT for on-line transactions for motorists and industry partners, have helped to achieve more than S$5 million (US$3.31 million) in productivity improvements and S$3 million (US$1.98 million) in cost savings.

The LTA ha certainly been innovative. Its Green Hour@LTA initiative was launched on World Environment Day 2008 (5 June). All employees were encouraged to switch off their PCs, laptops, printers or any other peripherals, plus the main power switch, for at least one hour during lunch time. By encouraging such an environmentally-conscious culture, the LTA expects to save some two million hours of energy, or S$160,000 (US$105,887) annually.

The joint LTA-IBM task force contextualised a green programme focusing on business operations, infrastructure and people. Already in the past 12 months, the LTA says initial pilots have achieved savings of about (US$370,652).

One pilot was the assessment of data centre energy efficiency using thermal imaging technology to identify airflow efficiencies and hotspots. The new specifications developed have, says the LTA, since resulted in the layout re-alignment of LTA data centres. Control centres have reduced energy consumption by 20 per cent, representing cost savings of S$150,000 (US$99,285) per annum.

Suitable solutions

“The Green Initiative represents LTA’s unwavering dedication in finding sustainable solutions to critical environmental issues,” says Rosina Howe-Teo, the LTA’s group director, innovation and infocomm technology.

“Through various collaborative platforms, the LTA has carried out several experimentations and test-bedding of new concepts with technology and innovation. With an estimated 60 per cent of energy being used for cooling in data centres, and the increase in density of computing platforms, a trial of liquid cooled systems is next in the pipeline.”

Multinational ICT provider T-Systems Singapore, which opened a new US$9.95 million green data centre in the Lion City in October last year, expects to save US$6.63 million in energy costs over the next decade


Charles Koh, the senior vice president of investment house Trusted Source Temasek, says his organisation was able to save one million dollars in power costs after reducing its 104 physical servers down to just 12.

“We no longer have to worry about server provisioning, we have achieved real-estate savings because we need less room, and our staff members have a better work-life balance due to our adoption of green IT,” Koh says.

“IT must call the shots from the front row with green IT and this approach must be integrated at the planning stage. We need to be ‘cheering from the front’ regarding green IT, which must make economic sense.”

Cloud computing, where computer applications and resources can be accessed over the Web on a pay-per-use basis, and virtualisation have emerged as future directions for data centres.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, which functions as the CIO for the Singapore government, believes the Lion City’s planned Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network will help reduce the cost of communications and position Singapore to take advantage of cloud computing. The new network is intended to deliver bandwidth speeds of up to one Gbps and beyond to every postal address in Singapore by 2012.

Data security

According to Khoong Hock Yun, the IDA’s assistant chief executive, infrastructure and services development group, data security is the number one concern that many enterprises have about cloud computing, followed by performance and integration with their existing applications.

Khoong told a recent cloud computing forum in Singapore that enterprises should not be expecting a level of security that they do not even have in their data centres today.

“In reality, the cloud provider is able to provide better security for small and medium enterprises, compared to what they already have.”

On the virtualisation front, in MIS Asia’s annual IT Nation: Tech Trends and Enterprise Priorities 2009 research, senior IT executive respondents indicated that virtualisation was the most popular choice for extra investment for large enterprises in 2009.

Gartner says worldwide virtualisation software revenue will increase 43 per cent to US$2.7 billion dollars in 2009 and virtualisation penetration is on pace to reach 20 per cent. This is no doubt driven by the financial and banking crisis and the pressure on executives to cut costs, particularly in their data centre energy carnivores.

The MIS Asia IT Nation 2009 research also highlighted that Asia Pacific CIOs seem to be most disappointed in green IT. Nearly a third of respondents considered it had failed to deliver, although this could relate to executive impatience.

The focus on green IT sharpened in 2007, with the momentum generated by Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Many Asia CIOs seem to expect that environmentally-friendly IT initiatives deliver instantaneous benefits. The harsh reality is, however, that green IT requires substantial changes to business practices before its value is realised.

Richard Tan, programme director, IT services, with the Institute of System Science at the National University of Singapore, says there is currently no ‘fixed definition’ of what green IT entails.

“There must be a more consistent and coordinated approach in the development of green IT standards across the business computing ecosystem for Singapore,” he says.

As Martin Gililland, vice president IT, Asia Pacific, for Frost & Sullivan, put it at a recent IT conference: “What’s included in green IT is really the difficult part and what benefits the business gets from it is even harder [to realise] when the CIO can’t work out what they’re actually buying and why they’re buying it.”

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