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February 22, 2008 • Vol.30 Issue 8
Page(s) 24 in print issue

Energy-Efficient Data Storage
Saving Electricity Through Data Management
Enterprises are looking past their data centers’ infrastructures and to the management of the data itself to find new ways to save energy. According to research firm IDC, for every dollar spent on technology hardware today, another 50 cents is spent on power. By 2010, that cost is expected to jump more than 54% to 71 cents. No longer can data centers afford to expand simply by adding more space and hardware.

Finding ways to reduce energy inputs has also become critical for profitability as consumers are increasingly basing their purchasing decisions on organizations’ energy efficiency and environmental soundness, as well as their services and products.

Already addressed in the effort to save energy have been facility controls, such as HVAC; lighting; better insulation; environmental-friendly building materials; and energy-efficient equipment, such as monitors with power-saving features. While these first steps have resulted in a significant power reduction, it has segued to the next level of power savings for the data center—energy reduction through better data management.

Efficient Applications

Julie Lockner, vice president of sales operations at Solix Technologies (, a provider of enterprise data management solutions, explains how effectively managing data can lead to a more efficient data center: “One of the things that data management does is it allows you to separate data based on its use in the business.”

It boils down to this: Data that does not need to be online can be taken offline. While this might not sound significant, consider how much information is stored in databases. Data centers routinely make as many as eight clones of their database applications to support their production environment, thus leading to increased resource requirements. “Data centers make a test copy, a development copy, a training copy, etc. Often these are full copies. Each one of those copies takes a database, a disk, and server so the users can access the data,” says Lockner.

Taking unnecessary data offline reduces the amount of data in the production environment, as well as all the copies. In turn, less storage and CPU requirements on the servers are needed. This quickly translates into less power and cooling. “What normally may take 10 or 20TB can be reduced to as little as 4TB. Instead of deploying another storage array or a bunch of servers, you can do more with what you have,” says Lockner.

According to Lockner, small to midsized enterprises are faced with the same problem, just on a different scale. However, they, too, can benefit from power savings and cost reduction through data management. “It’s a matter of economics—how much they can afford to keep data online. Especially with smaller companies, if they can reduce the cost of their production stores, they can scale back their overall costs.”

Solix views classification as the key for data management. By determining what data must be accessible at all times and what data can be archived or purged, organizations can reduce the required hardware associated with the housing and delivery of information.

New Capacity Paradigms

“At some point, data centers need to address the most egregious source of waste: poor capacity utilization. With average written-data disk utilization rate estimates ranging from as little as 10 to 25%, more than half of the disks quietly humming away in the world’s data centers are effectively wasted. But they are not only wasted—they are also responsible for wasting valuable resources: the resources required to house, power, and cool them,” says David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR (, a scalable utility storage array vendor.

Scott promotes his company’s dedication to the green revolution through 3PAR’s Thin Provisioning technology. Thin Provisioning is the single allocation of logical capacity to an application, while physical capacity is drawn from a common pool of purchased storage only on an as-needed basis. By changing the traditional method of purchasing anticipated capacity, instead of what is actually required, data centers routinely have unutilized storage burning up energy. Compared to traditional SAN storage arrays, 3PAR’s Thin technology can reduce storage capacity by as much as 60%.

Microsoft ( has also hopped on the energy-saving bandwagon with its DiskEnergy research project, which the company is expected to announce at the upcoming Usenix FAST conference in San Jose, Calif., Feb. 26 through 29. Microsoft’s research focuses on write offloading that changes the input/output patterns on disks to coordinate idle time when the disks can be spun down to save energy. Researchers have found that this process can result in a 45 to 60% energy savings.

Lockner notes, “It’s not so much reducing the amount of electricity, but it’s about reducing the thirst for power as the volumes of data grow. In the end, it’s about reducing the thirst for data—how much do you need to sift through to be able to get the answer that you want. If you can control that, then you can start to control your storage footprint growth and the servers required to access the data.”

by Sandra Kay Miller

Data Center Energy Facts

• According to Tufts University’s Climate Initiative, one computer left on 24 hours a day results in 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2006 that data centers consumed 1.5% of the United States’ total energy consumption, or about 60 billion kilowatt-hours, which translates into $4.5 billion dollars.

• In a 2006 report, Gartner Research predicted that by the end of this year, half of data centers would not be able to meet the power and cooling requirements and that by 2011, 70% of data centers will experience “tangible disruptions.”

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