Datacenter Energy Use and Sustainable IT

The importance of energy hit home for me when I first watched Turk Pipkin’s interview with Richard Smalley in Turk’s 2006 film, “Nobelity.” Smalley gave his thoughts on the top 10 problems humanity will face over the next 50 years. He paid particular attention to energy, asserting that, if energy ceased to be a problem, there was clear line of sight to solving five of the other major issues on his list.

Given energy’s importance, it’s natural for folks to question industries or companies that have a significant energy footprint, and we’ve see a lot of discussion recently on the cloud, the Internet, and the effects of the IT economy on our environment.

The datacenter industry is well aware of how much energy it consumes, but it’s also very aware of its role in driving the Information Age, providing new economic opportunities, and approaching issues the world has never before had the capability to address. As a result, organizations such as The Green Grid and The Climate Group have arisen to provide both focus and means for understanding impacts and opportunities.

Over and above the industry response, I’m particularly proud of the attention Dell pays to energy-related issues. This year, we’ve catalogued more than 80 ways in which Dell products, product features, services offerings, initiatives, and solutions help reduce IT energy consumption. These range from our work delivering a best-in-class modular datacenter designed to operate on a rooftop in Arizona with fresh-air cooling to thin-client solutions from our new friends at Wyse.

We’ve launched products to reduce the number of manual steps necessary to launch a virtual machine, products that help our customers manage power settings across a wide and nationally distributed client environment, and even tools that allow a datacenter manager to limit the power consumption of a chassis filled with our blade servers. An added bonus: The products and features that address our customers’ pain points and enable them to run an efficient enterprise are also, as a wonderful side effect, more sustainable solutions than the products and features they replace.

Our commitment to sustainable IT, however, goes even further when one looks at what all this computing power is enabling.

TGen is using high-performance computing to accelerate pediatric cancer treatment. The Green Belt Movement, founded by a Nobel Prize winner, develops geographic information systems (GIS) to support planning and monitoring of complex forest management projects and programs. With today’s technology, humanity has the ability to address problems that seemed unthinkably intractable just a few years ago. As a result, the demand for computation has increased by orders of magnitude over the last decade.

The right question is, “Are we responsible stewards of the resources with which we’ve been entrusted?”

While the IT industry continues to find opportunities for significant improvement in productivity and output, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Our latest estimates show servers and datacenters use approximately 1.5 percent of today’s global electricity production. Compare that, however, with where we were just a few short years ago. If we tried to do what we do today with the technology we had back in 2000, we would need all of humanity’s current electricity production… times two and a half!

Energy is and will continue to be one of the world’s most important 21st-century issues. While we’ve made great progress in ensuring IT is sustainable, we have not and will not rest on our laurels. I have no doubt that as Dell specifically and the IT industry in general continues to increase its focus on services and solutions, our portfolio of energy solutions will grow even wider and stronger. Both society and our customers will demand it.

John Pflueger is Dell’s Principal Environmental Strategist. In this role, he is responsible for driving Dell’s strategy on issues around Environmental Sustainability – including Energy, GHG Emissions, Materials of Concern, Material Use/Recovery/Reuse, and Water.  Since graduating from MIT in 1991 with a doctorate in mechanical engineering, he has spent 18 years in manufacturing engineering, product development, product marketing, and product management roles for technology companies including IBM. Connect with John on Twitter: @JCPAatDell

Tags: Data Center,Technology,Virtualization