Is going ‘green’ black and white?

By Mark Peters

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What does “green” mean in the storage world? Not surprisingly, the vendor community has been quick to spot a good wave and has grabbed its collective green surfboard-with enthusiasm. Go to the Website of any storage vendor and you’ll find it never takes more than a click or two for the green message to come leaping off the screen. Certainly “green-washing” your marketing message is good branding in today’s world-showing that you are socially and environmentally aware, and allowing end users to buy into that warm, we’ve-done-our-bit feeling.

But, can storage systems and storage management really help you become greener? What practical steps can you take? Is it reasonable to assume that storage systems that save power and cooling, and are more space- efficient, are a good thing? The answer is “yes,” but getting from point A to point B is not as straight a line as some vendors would have you believe. Let’s start with a few basics.

You should first re-examine your current processes and methods and seek new efficiencies to both minimize your required storage and maximize usage of what you already have (see the sidebar for specific options). How many copies of data do you have, where and how are you storing and provisioning data, and where are the inefficiencies? Sure, energy-efficient devices are a great first step, as long as the work still gets done; and let’s not forget that more IT- and more storage-may be a good thing if it’s having a “green” impact elsewhere; a good example being the rise of online transactions, which result in fewer car trips.

The next point involves semantics. “Green” should be reserved to describe specific undertakings that focus on making the data center better for the environment…or at least “less bad.”

This is different from straightforward power and cooling issues-which certainly may have a “green” impact, although even that can be mitigated if renewable energy supplies are used. Although power and cooling and green issues do overlap, they are not synonymous.

This leads to the nature and scale of the issue. Most server and storage vendors are focused on being more power- and cooling-efficient. This is a good thing as long as the necessary work can still be performed (bigger disk drives that don’t consume much more power yet increase contention may not be a practical solution for many applications).

However, many discussions on this topic turn quickly from one green to another, concluding that the “green” ($$$, bottom line) impact is in reality more important to IT than any “green” (environmental) impact. The potential electricity bill savings, while impressive as percentages, are probably not factors that would drive entire business decisions (except in a few extreme cases), nor contribute to saving the planet. While every small step in the right direction is worthwhile, in the data center it is not so much the cost of the power, cooling, and space resources that is paramount but, rather their availability.

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“Green IT” goes beyond power and cooling. For example, is your infrastructure RoHS-compliant? If you don’t know, then green IT isn’t really important to you (so get the lead out-pun intended!). What about storage systems that use battery backup for their write cache? More specifically, what about the disposal of those batteries, which typically have a life of only about three years?

Focusing on power and cooling is certainly important, but it is only a subset of green IT. Most storage vendors are working to continually reduce the power, space, and cooling requirements of their systems. This is nice to have for some users and a necessity for others, but probably not because of green initiatives or desires. As to really being as green as possible, some end users care deeply and some don’t. If green IT is really important to you, you have to challenge the status quo. ❏

Mark Peters is an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (www.enterprisestrategygroup.com).

This article was originally published on November 01, 2007