Green computing is big business. It’s the latest term in the IT sector, and a nagging doubt in the back of every CIO’s mind. But what does it mean, and what is the scale of the problem, asks Object Matrix founder Jon Morgan.

According to a recent report from analyst house IDC, more than 16.3TWh of energy was consumed by servers based in data centres in Western Europe in 2007, a 13% increase on 2006 figures. The report claims that this same amount of electricity could power all street lighting and traffic signals in the UK for almost two years. What’s more worrying is that this figure is estimated to double every 5 years.

This steady increase in energy consumption has come about due to a number of factors, including:

  • Increased computer usage, and customer demands for computations
    • Increased requirement for reference data, in particular online, searchable data
    • An historic lack of priority given by the computer industry towards better energy efficiencies (e.g, evermore power hungry CPUs)
    • Inappropriate technologies being employed to do jobs that could be done far more efficiently

To date, the industry seems to have been slow to react, with few firms having schemes in place to reduce their energy consumption and, with overheads being reduced, this is likely to slip further down the priority list. Since the demand for more computational power and more online data storage is not likely to abate, the industry needs to take action and offset this with better energy efficiencies and more appropriate technologies.

Energy efficient storage

One area of technology that has become more power hungry than most is storage, as it is inevitable and desirable that increased computer usage will lead to greater storage requirements. Whilst there are ‘green’ methods of storing data (e.g., on tape), these methods are slow and do not meet the demand for short-timeframe access to data. To deliver this generally requires disk-based archiving at the heart of the solution.

From an energy stand-point, disk-based archiving has historically become 100 times more efficient per byte stored every nine or so years due, primarily, to the growth in disk storage capacity, and the fall in disk power utilisation. This trend is set to continue, as leading hardware manufacturers launch drives as large as 2TB.

A massive 92.5% energy saving can be made by replacing even fairly large 500GB disk drives with 2TB drives, but organisations are unable or unwilling to do this due to concerns over compatibility, downtime and, inevitably, cost. It is not uncommon, therefore, for these type of decisions to be made within the context of more complex project decisions and the ability to make timely, significant power consumption reductions either unavailable and/or are simply lost.

A potential solution

In order to achieve the energy efficiencies required, businesses need to have confidence that this will be affordable and not to the detriment of their existing IT infrastructure. One potential solution would be a digital archiving tool to help users store digital work and final creations in a secure, instantly available and energy efficient manner. It is perhaps the only answer that actively seeks to address the issue of efficient energy usage coupled with the ‘instantly available data’ usage requirement. The MatrixStore is one such digital archiving tool currently used in the creative industry, such as broadcast and advertising agencies.

The MatrixStore sets out to address carbon usage issues by specifically allowing the most appropriate technology to be used by the customer via a straightforward yet innovative method. It enables organisations to replace power hungry SAN based solutions and older tape based storage solutions with far more power friendly and cost efficient server systems.

It is assumed, often incorrectly, that tape based archiving is more efficient than disk, but in many situations within the creative industry a digital workflow with online connections can make significant power savings and/or CO2 emission savings. Examples include:

  • Where tapes otherwise need to be couriered to other sites, or to customers
    • Where data is kept on many 100’s of tapes in a controlled environment (as opposed to on a single hard disk)
    • Where frequent reads are made (especially when involving winding tapes)
    • Where data analytics requiring whole set of library tapes to be read for a subset of information
    • Where tape formats are quickly outdated and must be replaced by the latest tape based solution, requiring the entire solution to be replaced
    • Where tapes must be manually recopied after a set number of years to preserve the quality of the data

In a disk based solution wherein the disks can be parked then the power draw of that disk based solution will always be less than in a tape based solution.

A digital archive can help businesses avoid hardware and software incompatibility issues, streamlining their technology processes to ensure power is not wasted. The MatrixStore, for example, is a software-based solution which allows all storage hardware, independent of make or model, to be used in a single storage pool. As it is software based, users pay for what they need rather than buying set amounts of storage. As the system only powers what hardware is needed, the user is not wasting energy on redundant hardware units.

Conclusion

In summary, a digital archive, such as The MatrixStore solution, can help companies became more energy efficient by:

  • Making immediate and significant power savings of over 90% compared to storing data on older, smaller disk-drive systems
    • Making significant ongoing power savings; creating a solution that is 100x more power efficient per byte stored within 7 years

Digital archiving is an important step towards digital workflow and the paperless office. Although skeptics will claim that this will use up more electricity and energy, in actual fact, the latest computer hardware is extremely power efficient and will avoid mountains of wasted paper files. As a method of storage, a digital archive provides users with instant access to assets in a nearline vault rather than wasting time searching through a tape library.

The issue of green computing is set to rise ever higher on the business agenda, with the UK Government’s Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) scheme set to commence in April 2010. This provides organisations with a financial incentive to reduce emissions by placing a price on carbon emissions, which when coupled with the benefits of technology solutions, such as a digital archive like The MatrixStore, could result in a tangible solution for better data centre energy efficiencies.