Saturday, September 15, 2007

herenow Green and Virgin Virtualization Territories


Just last week, I floated by Dana G. and the others the possibility of discussing how SOA and virtualization can contribute to the “greening” of data centers, computing, IT, and modern business/life in general. We didn’t get around to it on this latest podcast, but Dana assures me we’ll get to it in one of the upcoming sessions. So here now I’m preparing my thoughts—both philosophical and practical--for that eventual day.

Everything’s going “green” these days, or so it seems. The term “green” has become a catch-all for ecological, technological, and cultural correctness in all things having to do with stewardship of earth’s natural resources. In many ways, the universal alarm over global warming has heightened anxiety over the fragility of our survival prospects. It has focused us all on the sustainability—or lack thereof--of the human race’s seemingly infinite demands on this all-too-finite planet. How can we possibly sustain our growing species’ increasingly gluttonous “way of life” when we’re inexorably depleting and degrading our God-granted natural resources? Are we expecting that somehow we can pick up, terra-form, and migrate to another planet before our time here runs out?

Dwelling now on the current historical moment in our culture, one thing that bothers me is how we’re elevating a hyper-vague color word—“green”—as some sort of vision or ideal. What is this “green” thing (objective, adjective, verb, herb) anyway? What exactly does it mean to “green” our data centers, or our buildings, or communities, or our ways of doing business? Is there some clear, consistent set of “green” principles—some new set of ten commandments (though fewer would be easier to recall)—upon which we can build a new, sustainable, scalable, carbon-neutral, non-polluting, ecologically sound (and thoroughly IT-infused, of course) global civilization going forward?

Please notice that I worked the words “sustain,” “sustainable,” and “sustainability” into the past two paragraphs. If “green” means anything, it refers to the vision of a self-sustaining and scalable human footprint on this our only home planet, based on wise stewardship of this orb’s finite resources, encompassing all of the atmospheric, hydrological, biological, territorial, mineral, and fossil factors of our continued existence. Clearly, the “green” movement’s primary preoccupation is with our finite energy resources—specifically, fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas—and with the need to conserve whatever reserves of these remain while expanding exploitation of renewable energy sources such as sun, wind, biomass, nuclear fusion, etc. Yes, we’re also concerned with making sure there’s enough fresh air, clean water, nutritious food, and spiritual sustenance to power six-and-counting billion individuals going forward, but it’s our skyrocketing energy demands that are freaking us all out—and, of course, melting the polar ice caps.

That’s where green IT comes into the picture. Without access to scalable, sustainable, and cost-efficient sources of electrical power everywhere, the entire IT scaffolding of modern human existence will just simply collapse. And, until such time as we can power the majority of our civilization’s needs from cheap renewable energy sources, we’ll all need to conserve Earth’s finite fossil fuels to the maximum extent feasible. Where green data centers are concerned, the primary requirement is on making them more energy-efficient, not just in powering the servers, storage devices, routers, and other IT components, but also in running the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, fire suppression, and other climate-control systems that sustain all the IT in an artificially stable indoor environment. Google, by some estimates, pays around $1 billion annually for electricity to run the 450,000 servers in its 25 data centers—and it’s just one of zillions of IT-based enterprises that can’t operate for one minute without a clean, reliable flow of servile electrons flowing off a ubiquitous public power grid. What happens when that precious juice stops flowing, or just becomes exorbitantly expensive?

If you’re paying attention to the IT industry news these days, you’ll see that energy-efficient data centers are all the rage. Just a few discussions I’ve come across in my recent reading:

On greening of chips, processors, servers, storage, and other subsystems in data centers

“The question of how to reduce power drain while beefing up processing capacity has proven to be a conundrum that keeps many IT executives awake at night. So it's no wonder technology vendors devote big money to reducing the data center power drain.

“Intel and AMD are investing millions in their latest efforts to offer microprocessors that deliver more processing capabilities while consuming less power—Intel with its research into new (as yet unnamed) input/output technology that could support up to 10 processors on a single chip, and AMD with its soon-to-be released Barcelona chip. IBM's billion-dollar "Project Big Green" initiative, intended to make computing more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, includes a five-step program for companies looking to cut power use in the data center. And a team at Hewlett-Packard Labs last year introduced "dynamic smart cooling" technology that links smart air conditioning systems to a network of sensors measuring temperatures entering and leaving servers, in theory delivering cooling only when and where it's needed. "Cooling beyond needed levels is a waste of energy," says HP Fellow Chandrakant Patel, who heads up the effort. "We can reduce power consumption by 25 to 45 percent."

“Meanwhile, Schwartz and his executive team at Sun—which last fall introduced Project Blackbox, a self-contained, shippable data center—have established power consumption as a major area of engineering focus. In a blog entry posted last September, CTO Greg Papadopoulos made it clear that processing power is no longer the most important consideration in equipping data centers. "Just about every customer I speak with today has some sort of physical computing issue: They are … maxed out on space, cooling capacity or power needs—and frequently all three," Papadopoulos wrote. "My guess is that we'll look back at today's 'modern' systems to be about as efficient and ecologically responsible as we would now view the first coal-fired steam locomotives."

Tony Kontzer, “The Evolving Data Center,” CIO Insight, July 10, 2007 (,1540,2157156,00.asp?kc=COQFTEMNL071207EOAD)

On greening of the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and other climate-control systems in data centers

“A data center is anywhere between 100- and 200-times more energy intensive than a home or an office on a per-square foot basis. … So the environmental impact of data centers by far is dominated by energy use. So when people say they use recycled materials in the data center, I actually laugh. It's not the point in the data center. The point is the energy. There is a U.S. Green Building Council which has developed "LEED," which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It's a green building rating system consisting of a whole series of points. You get points for saving water; if you lower energy use, you get points. Then if you get enough it can be a certified building. There are certified silver, gold and platinum levels. So if you take the data center and use the LEED rating system and use that to say, "Okay, I have a green data center," again, that's just the wrong way to look at it. Most people in the data center business do this. Green data centers use less energy, that’s what it is all about. The energy use of the data center, from an IT perspective, is the key.

We have servers that are so small and dense and it is very difficult to provide enough cooling to the rack. Data centers want the latest generation of servers but can't use them because there is not enough electrical power and not enough cooling. So IT people say, "Oh my, the power consumption of servers is up so dramatically and there are so many in the data center that energy is the bottleneck." The wonderful thing is that if we lower energy consumption, we can put in a lot more servers, lower out energy billing and, oh yes, we can claim that we have a green data center. So there's kind of a triple win: capacity, dollar savings and green benefit. Everybody is thinking green data centers and green computing from different angles. The key is if computer suppliers get onboard or are left behind. If the devices use so much power, they are not going to sell. There's a competitiveness thing that has to happen here.

”Let's talk about energy from the dollars perspective. I was at a conference recently of people from larger manufacturers. What they are saying is that now if we take net present value of a server's electrical and cooling energy over the three-year life of the device and compare it to the purchase price of the server they are almost equal. If trends continue on energy … there will be a point in the near future where energy costs more than the server costs. That’s a really big deal. In the past, IT people purchased whatever had good performance … So they would select the best performing service and the best price. Now suddenly IT guys have issues about the energy levels of the facility and the infrastructure in it. They have got to take that all into consideration.

The data center space in collation facilities and construction thinks dollars per square foot. In collocation facilities, companies lease a cage. … All the pricing is based on square feet. ... Actually, the paradigm needs to change. It should be charging for power, not for square footage. That's what data centers are about, providing power and cooling in a reliable way. Some of the more sophisticated people in the data center space understand that we need to charge for power, not just for square footage. In the future, the dynamic won't be so much on compaction, but now there is compaction pressure…..

”There are two ways to attack energy problems. Both need to be used. The first and most important is the IT equipment itself. There is a need to lower energy use of the equipment. The other is on the building side.

”The core of the issue is that IT equipment is energy intensive. We need to focus on that. There is not one technology that solves the problem. There are a lot of steps to be taken. For example, there are power supplies, and the processor types. One good step is to use dual-core, quad-core and multiple-core processors. On a performance basis, they have lower power consumption. As an example — not to focus on Sun — but the Sun T1000 and T2000 servers use eight-core processors that are quite energy-efficient. Power performance is very good.

”IT equipment uses half the power. The UPS power and cooling is the other half. We need to address that and get it down to the point where three-quarters of the power goes to IT equipment and one-quarter to the facility.

”The vast majority of the building's energy goes to cooling. We are working on a wide variety of technologies to reduce cooling dramatically. Two major strategies fit into the category of economizer cooling. If it's hot inside the building and cold outside, let's open the windows. The way you implement the concept is to get air handlers that can filter, humidify and use that air. Even in places that are hot and have a humid climate there are a lot of times the data center can do this, such as in the winter and nighttime. In New York State, they use outside air in cooling. In the hot summer months, it is not applicable. In winter and spring, it is very applicable. Google is setting up its servers in Oregon. Two of the reasons are that energy is cheap and it's cold. The other way is a strategy called waterside free cooling, or waterside economizer. It involves a cooling tower with a chiller. If it is a cold day, you turn off the chiller and use the cooling tower to make the cold water directly usable in cooling the coils.”

Peter Rumsey, “The Greening of the Data Center,” IT BusinessEdge, September 11, 2007,

On greening of vendor pitches for their data warehousing and other data center products (note: ample marketing hypewords stripped out of excerpt)

“Sybase IQ Powers World's Largest Green Data Warehouse Including Unstructured Data….

“The significant benchmarks were achieved in large part due to the … compression capability of Sybase IQ, a[n] analytics server not only for compression but also for query performance and [fast] load performance. ….The world's largest data warehouse depends on Sybase IQ's … compression capability to store one petabyte of raw data including unstructured data …. using only 160 terabytes of storage. This … savings in storage achieves a 90 percent reduction in CO2 emissions. Organizations using this architecture will be able to scale their data warehouses well beyond today's requirements at substantially lower storage costs, lower cooling requirements and lower energy costs than alternatives.”

 September 7, 2007,,+09:00+AM

On the greening of offices by centralizing more of their IT infrastructure into data centers

“The IT industry is in danger of becoming an unnecessary apologist for environmental woes caused by the equipment it sells. While there is certainly room for improvement in the way IT procurement and infrastructure is managed, this must not be overshadowed by the more positive aspects that good use of IT can make to the overall greening of businesses. However, manufacturers and resellers of IT products and services need to get better at putting this message across.

“A lot of the bad press focuses on data centres and, indeed, these should be the starting point for any initiative to green the use of IT by businesses. The way in which the buildings, energy supply, cooling equipment, hardware and software associated with data centres can be adapted to improve energy efficiency are well recorded. But a point that is often missed is that these carbon economies can all be made because the data centre is a well structured and manageable environment.

“For many businesses the majority of energy consumed by IT will not be in the data centres, but in the numerous business locations it is there to serve. The office remains IT’s wild frontier, a jumble of PC, printers, monitors, branch servers, telephones and numerous other devices all in an uncontrolled environment. Moving more of this kit into the data centres and reducing the “office-IT factor” will give business more control over the energy consumed by IT.

“Of course a lot of kit needs to stay near the point of use, such as monitors, printers and telephones. Here standards and remote management can help. But moving branch servers into data centres, introducing thin-client computing where practical and serving remote users with web-enabled applications all have a part to play in reducing the “office-IT factor”. This is not just about the physical relocation of kit but also about the transfer of processing power out of the office and the reduction of network traffic by keeping the heavy lifting between “clients” and “servers” with the data centre.”

Bob Tarzey, “IT shouldn't cop all the blame for wrecking the environment,” IT Director, September 14, 2007,

What this sample of my recent reading shows is that the “green” revolution is permeating today’s IT world from top to bottom. Much of this push is driven by enterprise needs to reduce out-of-control electricity bills in the operation of data centers. But note that, in this discussion, some are looking at the larger IT picture, in terms of the overall energy costs of the end-to-end distributed computing infrastructure—encompassing both the “lights-out” data centers and the “lights always-on” offices where most business people work. How can businesses formulate a “greening” strategy that considers the total resource budget—i.e., energy, machines, material, real estate etc--consumed by their IT infrastructure?

In this broader perspective, SOA contributes to the greening of the enterprise by enabling greater application reuse across the organization, hence greater consolidation of computing resources into (hopefully) ever fewer servers running in fewer but more energy efficient data centers, which themselves are (hopefully) reusing the underlying hardware resources more efficiently through the magic of virtualization.

So, SOA and virtualization are green-friendly IT approaches, if executed properly. However, for SOA architects to consider the green consequences of their approaches, they’ll have to do something that’s against their professional grain: tightly couple the application layer to the underlying physical layer. In other words, they’ll have to consider the energy, material, collocation, and other physical/deployment considerations inherent in their SOA-based composition, orchestration, and allocation of distributed services across the intra- and inter-organizational computing fabrics.

In the SOA design time, they’ll need to factor “green-ness” into the architectural equation, alongside capacity, performance, scalability, availability, security, and other “physical envelope” considerations.