The emerald kingdom

Sean Robson reports on the latest solutions and practices that make going green easier for enterprises.
The emerald kingdom
By Sean Robson
Sun 13 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

Whether you are building a new datacentre or upgrading an old one, environmentally-friendly technologies are becoming a necessity. Sean Robson reports on the latest solutions and practices that make going green easier for enterprises.

The concept of the ‘green' datacentre is, to paraphrase another writer, an idea whose time has come. All around the world they are talking about it, and here in the Middle East it is no different.

But what exactly is a green datacentre? What does green mean exactly and how can datacentres go about becoming this particular colour?

Chief technical officer at Pacific Controls, Nigel McKenzie, argues that green means different things to different people, and he appears to be right.

When it comes to datacentres we need them to live longer, and they have to be built to be adaptive. They need to be made dynamic, and to do so we should reduce power and space by consolidation and virtualisation.

"It means a lot of things to a a lot of people, but for Pacific Controls it's about protecting the environment. Our work is primarily related to energy and carbon emissions," he states.

"Green is using your energy in an efficient way, not wasting that energy and making sure you are making the most out of what you have in terms of space and power," explains Bassem Aboukhater regional IT director of advertising firm, Leo Burnett.

"To Nortel, green means applying technology to the benefit of the environment, to significantly reduce energy consumption, the carbon footprint and in the long run costs as well," says Apollinaire Moreno-Borondo, head of sales engineering at Nortel Middle East.

Farook Majeed, Middle East regional manager at Foundry Networks believes not only in saving the environment but also in saving on the bottom line. "It is about providing a business proposition to customers where they are able to have the best of both worlds, business and cost savings through lower RoI and opex, while concurrently making an impact environmentally."

Slightly different in their thinking but no less committed to the green movement is HP. "HP does not believe that there is green IT per say, but instead we refer to greening IT or the datacentre because we are still moving towards a true green datacentre," says Rashid Al Omari, infrastructure consultant for HP Middle East.

The choices abound

While the definitions of green remain fluid and varied, the market of products and solutions is also confusing. There are a host of green products on offer and it's essentially the job of the IT manager or CIO to wade through the options and select the best products for his datacentre.

The Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) is a technology zone on the cutting edge of new technologies and solutions, and a good example of an enterprise that has taken the green initiative to heart.

"We have devised the park to be an optimal technological facility to meet our clients' needs and to operate as efficiently as possible. This includes initiatives such as the optimisation of power management, and replacement of obsolete hardware.

Furthermore, server consolidation is presently undertaken as a major project in DSOA's IT Department," says Abdulsalam Bastaki, director of IT and services at DSOA.

Some of the most popular solutions among Middle East enterprises for going green are virtualisation and consolidation technologies, along with the streamlining of power management and introduction of blade servers.

"Server virtualisation and single instancing or de-duplication technology all help by reducing the number of servers and libraries needed to contain the data which, in turn, reduces carbon emissions, energy requirements and finally utility bills," explains Nigel Tozer, channel development manager at CommVault.

Information and technology research firm Gartner has been closely observing and mapping the trend towards green, and according to vice-president Rakesh Kumar, they have noted the move towards virtualisation, and have also observed a demonstrable change in the architecture and design of datacentres.

"We are seeing a whole new breed of infrastructure management structures. Datacentre managers are creating inventories of the datacentre, as well as doing things like airflow analysis," says Kumar.

McKenzie concurs with this observation. "The fabric or envelope of the building can definitely help. Architecture and structure of the building can play a greening role. For instance, if you reduce the heat gain into a building this will help reduce cooling and energy expenditure."

"You can set up the switches, routers and hardware in your datacentre and identify the power expenditure by doing an energy modelling. That produces an energy profile for the building, and if you find that the energy expenditure is unacceptable, you make changes," McKenzie adds.

Choosing the technologies that will add value to the datacentre can be a confusing and often times daunting task. Majeed says, "Businesses should choose the technologies that best fit their objectives, both performance and finance oriented. We believe that companies should also look for products that adhere to open-standard technologies."

"This allows companies to choose greener or more efficient products from one or more vendors and not be locked into one vendor whose other products are not very green or efficient," advises Majeed.

The old, the new and the newer

Even with the confusing choices going green can be easy, especially when an enterprise is building a datacentre from scratch.

Al-Omari at HP takes this approach. "When it comes to datacentres we need them to live longer, and they have to be built to be adaptive. They need to be made dynamic and to do so we should reduce power and space by consolidation and virtualisation. There are many underutilised assets in datacentres consuming power and cooling," he says.

Elements of going greenVirtualisation:The set of technologies can dramatically improve your datacentre in terms of productivity and expenditure.

Server consolidation:Many enterprises have servers taking up space but not working to capacity.

Power and cooling systems:The power and cooling you are currently using should be examined and improved.

Architecture and design of buildings:The structure of the building can play a role in going green.

Airflow analysis within the datacentre:Determining the heat and how to optimise space for better airflow can add real value.

Better energy management integration with BMS:This is still in the initial stages of adoption, though it is predicted to grow.

"Start from below, beginning with the facilities. Datacentres needs to be designed taking into account the power and cooling requirements, and with an eye to future regulations that may be on the horizon," Al-Omari goes on to say.

Although many enterprises in the region are in the process of building new datacentres with an eye to becoming green, it is essential that existing datacentres in the region be improved and adjusted as well.

"We recommend breaking it down into some key steps. Upgrade the hardware and datacentre design, consolidate the servers, prioritise storage use, implement data de-duplication and deploy power management," says Omar Dajani regional manager of systems engineers with Symantec MENA.

"Network managers need to look at what they are using and then determine what products can be made more efficient or greener, within the context of how it is going to improve performance and save capital in the long term." reminds Majeed.

Some end-users, like Leo Burnett, are slowly yet surely upgrading their datacentres to a greener level. Aboukhater has made the move towards a greener environment in the existing datacentre by investing in hardware like blade servers together with storage, power management and virtualisation.

"It needs to be done. Resources are limited so what we have done is move to blades, which are more energy efficient, head towards virtualisation and are now looking at optimising our cooling."

The bottom line

While saving the environment is indeed a noble cause enterprises still run on margins. The IT department is as beholden to the bottom line as everyone else

"We are currently exploring the green features that can be introduced through 2009, and we will include the costs that will be incurred in the next year's budget. We shall endeavour to keep a minimum 10% of the budget for addressing environmental issues including green concepts," says DSOA's Bastaki.

Vendors are of the opinion that putting a number or percentage on the spending is not necessarily a simple task. "Given that green initiatives are now only taking off in the region, it is not possible to provide a figure. We will probably have a better view of this in about a year's time," believes Nortel's Moreno-Borondo.

Although vendors remain hesitant when it comes to addressing the issue of expense, Gartner's Kumar states that research has shown that the cost of a green datacentre as opposed to the more traditional datacentre is around 15%-20% more. "Although the initial outlay is more expensive the projected payback is more over four years time."

This long term investment thinking is reinforced by Tozer. "Adopting a good strategy can mean the overall costs of a datacentre are less. This combined with lower operational costs, power and cooling, could mean that going green doesn't hit the bottom line, it can actually save on it," he states.

"The market is collectively moving towards green. The technologies add value, and help the bottom line and environment. If you design the datacentre in an efficient way then there is a big payback," Aboukhater explains.

Growing pains

Europe and North America are regions where green has gained early traction thanks in part to government regulations and requirements. The Middle East has been slightly slower on the uptake of green technologies.

Some of this can be traced to certain unique characteristics of the regional market itself. For one, while the rest of the world suffers from a growing shortage of natural resources, this region is lucky to have no such issues.

"The abundance of natural resources, such as oil and gas, makes it difficult for people to appreciate the impact of green technologies. The challenge will be to educate the region on the need to go green," says Bastaki.

"I believe the entire region, including the UAE, is very reactive in terms of green. I would love to see Dubai and the UAE leading in this sphere," says Aboukhater.

A further issue that enterprises must confront is the absence of a single green standard across the region that is enforced by regulatory bodies.

"I do not believe there are sufficient standards just yet, but the economy of costs in terms of resources is forcing people to improve facilities. Increasingly they have to look at how to manage the same applications at lesser power. People are turning green because it makes business sense," notes Gartner's Kumar.

As a result of the relative newness of green to the Middle East a further challenge that has emerged is that of the lack of knowledgeable practitioners in the field.

"It's still a very new concept and the number of people with necessary knowledge is insufficient. The market is still immature but is definitely growing up," affirms McKenzie.

The question some sceptics are asking is whether or not the green datacentre is just the flavour of the month or a reality that is destined to stay. A growing number of end-users in the region though, are answering that question as they see value in becoming jade.

"It is definitely a necessity today, particularly with the escalating levels of energy consumption, prices and the global warming syndrome," states Bastaki.

As Aboukhater succinctly puts it, "Green is here to stay."

Green factsAround 24% of all power used for IT, is consumed by the datacentre

For every US$1 spent on the server, $0.5 is spent on energy for power and cooling. This is expected to increase by 54% over the next four years

A watt saved in datacentre power consumption saves at least a watt in cooling

The demand on the UAE's electricity and power consumption is expected to rise by 10% a year through 2010

Turning off unused servers can cut energy expenditure by up to 20%

For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.