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Cloud Computing - The enabler for greener and more sustainable business?

With all the recent economic issues, carbon emissions and electricity usage has dropped from the list of priorities for most organisations. However, as businesses start to recover and the global ecomony as a whole picks up, the costs associated with running infrastructure and their environmental impact will once again become headline news.

Even with the effects and issues caused by the recession and its spluttering recovery, we’ve seen a rapid increase in demand for cloud computing services over this period, especially within the emerging markets. More and more IT hardware is being deployed in Datacentres, outlining the need for a renewed focus on this area. With the non-stop growth of internet based services fueling the world’s businesses and government departments, this is pushing the need for ever more powerful systems filling up rack after rack with ever more power hungry infrastructure within Datacentres.

It’s not just the utility costs associated with operating a server estate that organisations need to consider, a far greater issue is the ever growing amounts of data that business and individuals worldwide are consuming and its huge impact on CO2 levels. According to findings reported by Gartner at the start of the global economical issues, the energy used to run a Datacentre and keep it cool leads to 23% of global ICT CO2 emissions. ICT as an industry contributes over 2% to the overall global CO2 emissions, a similar level as the aviation industry.

Recent surveys by Gartner show that sustainable business practices will be a top five priority for more than 60 percent of Western European and North American Chief Executive Officers in the year to come.

Sustainability is no longer a ‘soft’ and tangential aspect to organisation performance. A sustainable approach to business activities is generating tangible business benefits for organisations today, through a combination of operational efficiencies and market growth opportunities

The anarchic implementation of hardware in Datacentres has run out of control. Currently governments around Europe are introducing a range of Datacentre related environmental standards and laws, applicable to organisations of all sizes. With strict EU emissions targets, government enforced carbon limits and carbon trading statistics will be put in place, and we all must be seen to be compliant with its targets. Companies are seeking ways to display their green credentials in an effort to simultaneously differentiate themselves whilst displaying compliance. Internationally, initiatives such as The Green Grid (www.thegreengrid.org) are global consortiums dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in Datacentres and business computing ecosystems.

The electrical power used to run today’s high performance servers is not the full story. Non IT devices that consume Datacentre power include transformers, UPS’s, power-wiring, fans, air-conditioning, pumps, humidifiers and lighting. Virtually all the power entering a Datacentre ultimately ends up as heat. Unfortunately, the vast majority of hardware devices have been designed to provide maximum performance and functionality with little regard for wider environmental issues. Cooling currently accounts for up to 50% of a Datacentre’s power consumption, therefore there needs to be a new focus on how businesses can improve the efficiency in how they deliver their IT services which in turn would lead to reductions in both heat generated and power consumed.

The economics of powering and cooling so much infrastructure both physical and virtual, all the time, whether in use or not, is one of the most inefficient aspects of any business economically, ecologically and socially.

If the number of devices in the Datacentre could be further reduced, their utilisation increased even above the levels of efficiency that traditional virtualisations delivers and their usage window controlled through intelligent powering up and down when the processing needs demand, then less power is required to run them with less CO2 emissions generated.

Reducing the amount of infrastructure in the Datacentre will have a threefold effect:

  1. Less infrastructure consume less power and space.
  2. The reduction in infrastructure also reduces Network and SAN connections. This can be further reduced by the introduction of converged network and storage technologies.
  3. Infrastructure reductions reduce the amount of heat being generated, therefore reducing the power required to cool the Datacentre.

Ultimately the above reductions in power brings down an organisation’s utility costs as well as their Carbon Foot print.

Cloud Computing is an evolutionary step up from virtualisation. Both techniques allow the management of IT resources so that the needs of users, rather than the configuration of infrastructure, dictate the decision making process.

In practice it involves presenting users with a logical rather than a physical view of available resources, according to their function, regardless of their virtual/physical layout or location.

Conceptually, this is achieved in one of two ways:

One physical resource (e.g. a server) can appear, from the user’s point of view, to be servicing multiple ‘virtual’ resources.

Alternatively, multiple units of resource (e.g. disks) can appear to the user as a single virtual unit. Cloud Computing takes the above a few steps further by leveraging the scale gain available by having multiple clients share the underlining resources.

For example, with Cloud Computing one physical server can service a number of different client’s virtual servers, each meeting the needs of a different client and within that client’s groups of users. To all the different clients and users, it will appear as though they are working with entirely separate servers, which are grouped together based on the client but kept completely isolated from each other: the fact that a single hardware unit is servicing all of their needs is hidden from everyone.

This means that resources such as storage, memory and processors can be allocated dynamically and changed as and when requirements change, which is more efficient than using a number of discrete physical servers or a dedicated virtual based solution, each with resources dedicated to it. With separate physical or dedicated virtual infrastructure, if one of them is not required for a period its resources are wasted by lying idle; with Cloud based services, by contrast, when a virtual server or application is inactive the resources previously allocated to it can be immediately diverted to other parts of the Cloud that require them.

However, Cloud Computing is not limited to infrastructure, although that is the best-known contexts in which this approach is used. The same principles are applied to Applications that are Cloud based whether they are delivered through the Platform or Software as a Service model

There are two major benefits associated with the moving of systems and applications into the Cloud: cost benefits and greater flexibility in managing systems. Cloud Computing impacts both capital and operational costs.

The first step is to understand your application sets, what their requirements are and which area of Cloud Computing they will benefit from the most. Through Application Evaulation and Capacity Planning tools, applications installed within an estate can have their profiles and activity collected over a 30 day period. Industry averages for the utilisation of a dedicated server is between 10% & 15% and between around 50% & 70% for virtualised estates.

Through our extensive experience we have seen averages closer to between 4% & 8% for physical and between 30% & 50% for virtual. Once a profile has been collected the resources needed to host the envrinement can be calculated.

Achieving new targets of efficiency requires centralised management of physical, virtual and Cloud based devices, because while Cloud Computing and virtualisation reduces costs through consolidation of physical resources, it adds complexity by increasing the number of virtual resources that need to be simultaneously managed.

Gaining a more accurate understanding of the relationships among physical, virtual and Cloud resources enables administrators to understand the infrastructure in a more integrated, holistic way.

Through a single dashboard and the use of operational automation, administrators can control and health-monitor all devices, manage maintenance schedules and deploy upgrades and patches.

A Datacentre manager using Cloud based management tools can increase productivity whilst improving service levels and the overall responsiveness of IT to the demands that the business places on it.

Charging for “related use” through having a detailed accountability log of the real resources used will provide a competitive and visible consumption report to the business units.

Factoring Cloud based services into charging processes not only enhances the process by more tightly mapping the consumption of the business units, but also allows them to stretch their budgets to focus on energy efficient programmes. These programmes are offered by the power companies as rebates for energy efficiency.

CO2 emission savings to the Data Centre by utilising virtualisation

Assuming a fossil-burning source for the electricity, a Kilowatt of electricity results in 650g of CO2 emission. A typical server consumes 465 watts per hour, over 365 days and running 24hours per day it will consume approximately 4073 KW. Add in fact that it takes an additional 1 watt of electricity to cool every 1 watt consumed, and the consumption of your typical server doubles to 8146 KW per year. This equates to 5 metric tonnes of CO2 emission per year.

In summary, I do believe Cloud Computing will be an enabler of greener and more sustainable business in both the near and longer term. Its essence and ability to do significantly more with substantially less is at the heart of my view and this is why Cloud Computing has taken over from simple virtualisation to become one of the most significant and exciting shifts in the delivery of information systems since the inception of the microprocessor.

With the advent of virtualisation and then Cloud Computing, the ability to rationalise has become a viable option for organisations of all sizes. As Cloud services are based on less resource being asked to operate at far greater level of efficiency, whilst performing additional functionality with increased levels of availability, organisations that capitalise on this fundamental evolution of information technology will benefit not only from its capacity to reduce costs and carbon emissions, but will also serve as a the for a more sustainable business environment that is agile and responsive to businesses requirements.

By Julian Box, Posted 20th December 2011.