Data Center Optimization is Within Anyone's Reach

By Jai Sudharsan

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Data centers (DC) are now rightly being identified by energy-conscious business leaders as serious contributors to an organization’s carbon footprint. Moore’s law and inexpensive high-performance computing come at the cost of higher power consumption and increased cooling requirements. These side effects directly drive higher energy consumption in data centers.

Alignment with, or certification from the U.S. Green Buildings Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program is increasingly being seen by thoughtful CIOs and data center managers as a necessity. However, while being extremely helpful in designing green data center facilities, LEED still does not help data center practitioners think beyond the green building.

Beyond Green Facilities

Organizations looking to reduce the carbon footprint of their data centers need to go beyond LEED in the long term. Lowering a data center’s carbon footprint is a multi-layered endeavor and needs to go well beyond the facilities layer. It needs to be a holistic effort that weaves together green efforts at the business process layer, the applications layer and the infrastructure layer:

Green DCs must be seen as part of the continuum of green opportunities that exist throughout the data center value chain. Those that link revenue generating business processes with enabling applications and hosting infrastructure. They must leverage and drive the renewable co-generation activities the organization is engaged in; essentially acting as an off-grid captive customer. Green DCs must also actively pursue avenues to migrate applications to low-energy platforms, adopt lower per-CPU energy consumption regimes and maximize the usage of passive cooling.

But even these measures will asymptotically cease to make an impact on the data center’s overall energy consumption posture beyond a certain threshold. Energy savings beyond this will have to come from a fundamental recasting of the data center environment as a whole through purposeful optimization as shown below:

Crossing the Green Threshold: 4 Calibrators, 3 Levers and 3 Enablers

Crossing this asymptotic threshold for energy savings entails taking an approach to designing data center infrastructure that eschews overly complex arrangements, offering the minimum required redundancy and surge capacity levels to satisfactorily address resilience requirements. This implies designing a data center environment that makes energy-conscious trade-offs between the “3 Cs” of capacity, control and complexity as shown below:

This is an exercise that involves working with 3 fundamental levers: facilities, resilience and technology.

The facilities lever provides green options along two dimensions—at the level of an individual DC and across the topology as a whole.

The resilience lever creates green options by allowing for energy conscious choices among the different permutations and combinations for business continuity and disaster recovery.

While the technology lever provides green options from mature and emerging technical paradigms like virtualization, storage on demand, and autonomic computing. Enablers like people, processes and tools integrate the movement of the facilities, resilience and technology levers to manifest a holistic greening effect throughout the infrastructure.

Staying Lean, Running Green

Once the green threshold has been crossed by using the 4 Calibrators, 3 Levers and 3 Enablers, it is imperative that organizations work purposefully on continuing to stay lean in the data center. At this stage more than ever, green data center operations are a function of efficient supply and demand harmonization.

Thus green data center professionals need a mechanism that facilitates a structured and productive collaboration with core business leadership on green issues; one that is that is sensitive to the dynamics of the DC value chain and that transparently harmonizes the linkages between business operations, process automation, enabling applications and the physical and logical data center infrastructure.

Traditionally data center discussions at the C-level were invariably about cost and affordability, and that is still true, but in the current business environment that encourages heightened energy-consciousness, businesses see the need to rigorously weigh the business value added by data center infrastructure against their energy impact.

Green CIOs and data center leaders must see this as a welcome development that gives them the opportunity to truly be in the driver’s seat of the green DC enablement endeavor. Fast maturing tools and instrumentation give them the wherewithal to identify and communicate metrics like the opportunity cost of not investing in the incremental CPU, terabyte of storage, kilowatt of power or square foot of raised floor space.

Conversely, they are able to share with their business leaders metrics around the carbon credit gains and EPS contributions associated with any particular data center rationalization exercise. This sort of transparency was previously limited to very large scale IT users like large outsourcers or global multi-line banks that were often characterized as “stealth IT companies”. This is no longer the case. The maturity of the enabling processes and tools associated with such transparency has crossed that threshold and is now increasingly seen as par-for-the-course by savvy data center professionals.


Clearly, data centers are increasingly being seen as significant contributors to an organization’s carbon footprint. This perception is certainly grounded in reality but does not have to necessarily endure too long. A combination of process improvements and technology maturation has put the green data center within affordable reach.

Indeed, these developments have made it possible for the data center to be seen as an integral part of the solution, not the problem. This presents data center practitioners an opportunity to lead the way for the rest of their colleagues as they collectively embark on reducing their corporate carbon footprint.

Jai Sudharsan is a principal with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.