We’ve all heard about the productivity and efficiency benefits that storage virtualization can deliver — streamlined deployment, smarter hardware utilization, reduced administrative burden, included — but an oft overlooked aspect of the burgeoning technology known for saving green is its ability to bolster green IT initiatives. As corporations look to increasingly expensive sustainability efforts such as waterless urinals, LEED certification and electric-vehicle fleets, many others are finding that that the path to true environmental friendliness begins in the data center.
Since network admins are typically the point of contact between an organization and a virtualized-service provider, it makes sense that the discourse so far has been focused primarily on efficiency, mobility and scalability. But as virtualization continues to improve network, server and storage infrastructures, many organizations are beginning to realize the technology is also one of the greenest enterprise IT innovations they can embrace.
The computer lifecycle
Many don’t recognize the true environmental cost of a piece of physical hardware, whether it’s a laptop, hard drive or server. Consumers as well as enterprise users can institute a variety of sustainability best practices, but this will do little to allay the fact that nearly half the energy use generated by a computer is expended when it’s manufactured. Additionally, it takes roughly 10 gallons of water to create a single computer chip and more than a kilowatt-hour of electricity.
Shipping, the next phase in a computer’s life cycle, is about as un-green as it gets at many manufacturers. To keep hardware safe during transit, it’s often packaged in materials like foam, plastic and cardboard — all of which is thrown away or recycled at best. The components for a single computer are also typically sourced from dozens of different manufacturers. Between the costs of shipping these parts over air, sea and land to the assembly line and then finally to the end-user, fossil fuel consumption and pollution adds up.
When you combine the environmental impact of manufacturing and shipping — and factor in more obvious considerations like electricity use and the basic waste of hardware that ends up in a landfill after five years — the benefits of virtualized storage are clear.
By and large, physical hardware is massively underutilized. By some estimates, CPU utilization for a typical server deployment is somewhere in the realm of 5 to 15 percent. This is especially true when it comes to storage.
In a conventional network setup, you’ll often see a small armada of servers each supporting one or more hard disk drives. Often, individual hard drives are more than two-thirds empty. With virtualization, users can move entire storage operations onto a single physical machine, so instead of the server armada, you get a centralized solution that not only delivers cost savings, but also reduced power consumption, easier-to-manage cooling requirements and a smaller hardware footprint.
As the price point of virtualization solutions continues to drop amid increasing ubiquity, the technology’s environmental benefits will drive adoption among an entirely new demographic of enterprise and consumer end-users who are equally concerned with sustainability as they are with the bottom line.