The Green Movement -- Coming to a Data Center Near You

Dec. 19, 2007
New virtualization technologies enhance manufacturing's green efforts, but management is essential for real success.

Data Centers -- Resource Hogs?

The manufacturing industry has encountered a call to action to improve its green efforts on not only the shop floor, but also its IT infrastructure. Today, many data centers act as energy gluttons, wasting costly -- and limited -- energy resources. Would you leave your car running in the garage overnight, eating up gallons of gas and electricity? Of course not, so why are organizations still wasting multitudes of energy resources to run the data center?

Modern servers, in order to handle the magnitude of today's data and processing needs, have grown larger, increasing the cost to power, cool and maintain them. IDC estimates the total power and cooling bill for servers in the U.S. costs a whopping $14 billion a year, and if the current trends persist, the bill is going to rise to $50 billion by the end of the decade. It's clear the data center is a major consumer of power, not to mention a major contributor to any company's energy bill.

Thankfully, virtualization consolidates the workloads of individual servers and runs them on a single, efficient server, requiring fewer physical servers and lowering electricity and cooling requirements. If you're like many manufacturers, you likely have an abundance of home-grown or legacy applications running on individual, underutilized servers. Virtualization allows you to consolidate them on less expensive commodity hardware without having to rewrite old applications. In addition, engineering environments have often overextended computing capacity as a function of the application types and versions they are running. Virtualization substantially increases compute-capacity utilization by using the same hardware to run multiple applications independently.

While the case for virtualization has been made industry-wide, its benefits come hand in hand with more complex server management issues. This benefit and cost offset has inhibited the full utilization of virtualization. Today, each virtual machine is managed as if were physical. In order to achieve the lower power consumption and cooling costs virtualization promises, one must also incorporate automated virtualization management.

If It Sounds Too Good to be True...

Implementing virtualization alone is like assembling an orchestra without a conductor. You can have the best violinists, trumpet players and harpists in the world, but without an experienced conductor, chaos will ensue. Similarly, with virtualization, a single point of management keeps all systems working together and supporting your business. Also, while attempting to reduce physical server sprawl, you can inadvertently create virtual server sprawl. Doing so likely means a host of unanticipated capacity and resource allocation issues. Understanding how to manage and allocate effectively is vital to optimizing your new arsenal of virtual machines. This is where automation tools come in to play.

Let's consider a common IT process and how it might play out without automated virtualization management. IT regularly "brings down" a server for updating or servicing. While an inconvenience, workers have come to work around this procedure. With virtualization housing a number of tasks and applications on one server, many aspects of the business are going to be affected by these power downs. And on the off chance you suffer a server failure, you risk taking huge portions of the business completely "off-line."

This scenario is a nightmare from a manufacturer's perspective since any downtime in the supply process caused by downed servers can lead to lost output, unsatisfied customers or lost sales. It would take only one of these "off-line" instances for executives to reverse their position on virtualization in their data centers to avoid these disastrous situations.

Automated management alleviates the heavy manual process of moving files and applications. Not only does this help avoid an "off-line" situation, it enables effective server maintenance without risk. And if a server, either physical or virtual, fails there is automatic, rapid deployment of services for business continuity. You can plan scheduled maintenance with confidence and reduced hassle, while keeping the business running smoothly. All the while you're ensuring cooling and power consumption savings and reducing the impact of your data center on the environment. Think of it as "lean" for your IT infrastructure.

The Industry-wide Call to Action

Virtualization is coming to the forefront none too soon for the manufacturing industry. While virtualization can be a tremendous boost to an enterprise's productivity and environmental policy, without the proper automated management tools in place, you will threaten the very benefits you sought in the first place.

Virtualization's promises of reducing sever sprawl, heating and cooling costs, and power consumption are enticing, but they cannot be attained without effective management in place. With orchestrated management tools that automate critical data center processes, organizations can make virtualization a central component in their green IT strategy.

Joe Wagner serves as the general manager of the Systems and Resource Management business unit at Novell. He is responsible for the development of comprehensive information technology management solutions across the technology stack including Novell's ZENworks suite of solutions. Wagner holds a bachelor's in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a master's in business administration from Boston University.

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