Comatose servers: things will get worse before they get better

shutterstock_71528611Thirty percent of servers around the world are doing nothing at all. They are switched on, ready for service, and actively draw power and consume resources such as cooling, yet no-one would notice if someone decided to turn them off.
Articles are published on the energy use of data centers with clockwork regularity. It’s said that, at a global level, data centers consume as much energy as a large country such as the United Kingdom. Their carbon footprint is claimed to be roughly the same as that of the aviation industry. On a more positive note, there are signs that the energy consumption of data centers is stabilizing, although a great deal of work still needs to be done.

Forgotten servers
It goes without saying that one of the simplest ways to waste less energy is to turn off what are known as ‘zombie’ servers. You may wonder why this hasn’t happened yet. The main reason is probably that at most companies the electricity bill isn’t paid by the head of IT. In fact, the IT staff has no idea how high the bill is. This means they have no incentive to check which servers are actually being used.

Does the cloud create more zombies?
The fact that 30 percent of servers are comatose is old news. Consultancy firm Anthesis Group and Jonathan Koomey, a researcher at Stanford University, published a study on this subject in 2015 and a number of other past studies reached the same conclusion. I’m afraid that little improvement is expected in the next few years. Companies are moving more and more applications to the cloud, but this doesn’t always lead to a reduction in the number of servers at those companies. It will come as no surprise, then, that the number of servers is growing considerably worldwide. The number of comatose servers therefore tracks the rising popularity of the cloud.
This is somewhat ironic, as one would expect the cloud to bring about a more efficient use of server space. This will undoubtedly be the case in the long run, but we need to pull the plugs on the old servers first.
But the problem comes down to more than just the tendency of IT departments to expand their collection of servers. What about the ever-growing mountain of unused data stored by most companies? Most organizations have spent a great deal of time and money collecting this information and therefore hang onto it for dear life. Data doesn’t come with an expiration date, and so no-one actually gets rid of obsolete data. Instead, it fills up servers that in turn consume power and resources.

Data centers are part of the solution
One part of the solution would be for more companies to make the transition to a professional data center. It’s surprising that so many companies still run their own server rooms, which aren’t always managed with the same level of expertise as professional data centers. Even if we disregard the questionable security of their corporate data, companies that run their own server rooms also make very inefficient use of server space, cooling and the like.
Owing to the scale of professional data centers, we can invest more in efficient climate control, leading to lower energy consumption. LCL’s ISO 14001 certification is confirmation of our ongoing efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of our data centers. If all of the servers currently kept in in-house server rooms were moved to independent data centers, the global ecological footprint of the sector would be greatly reduced.

Moreover, the IT managers of LCL’s customers know full well how much electricity their servers consume each month. They can see this clearly and transparently in the invoices they receive, which are paid for out of the ICT budget. Customers of professional data centers know that it’s in their interests to seek out comatose servers and keep power consumption under control.
When it comes to excessive energy consumption, the finger of blame is often pointed at data centers. The facts, however, show that well managed data centers contribute to a more efficient and rational use of energy in the data storage sector.

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director LCL

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