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Mark Aggar is Spot On

As I'm preparing for Akamai's 2012 sustainability initiatives, I've been thinking about the larger "green" initiatives for our industry as a whole, and how it's critical that we start taking a more systems-oriented approach.

I was just re-reading "The IT Efficiency Imperative," a  great whitepaper authored last spring by Mark Aggar of Microsoft's Environmental Sustainability team. The paper, which "explores the critical importance and substantial benefits of embracing IT energy efficiency" is spot on.

Mark Aggar graph.PNG

Rather than thinking about the data center as made up of silo'd components, e.g., cooling units, servers, applications and chips, working independently towards improved efficiency, we need to consider a systems-based approach.  That is, how does one component's energy efficiency impact, positively, negatively or synergistically, other components? Two good examples are the use of hot and cold aisle partitions which can, in some cases, make cooling less efficient due to the complexities of fluid dynamics in the room; and raising cooling set point temperatures can increase the energy use of server fans.

According to a 2008 Uptime Institute study, server utilization was found to be appallingly low at 5-15%, with up to 30% of the servers comatose! This is the big, juicy low-hanging fruit waiting to be picked - probably even rotting on the ground by now!  One of Mark's graphs shows that increasing server utilization from 10-60% has 5X the impact on energy usage compared with improving your data center power usage effectiveness (PUE) by 40% (e.g., 2.0 to 1.2), or your power supply efficiency by 30%. Which makes sense, because higher server utilization has a trickle-down effect of fewer servers and lower IT load, which in turns leads to lower cooling load.

Akamai's dynamic traffic mapping system pushes our typical server utilization to 15-40%, and even higher during peak traffic events.  But that doesn't help during the lulls. Until server energy consumption - CPUs, fans, disks and memory - more closely matches utilization and cooling systems can be ratcheted up and down commensurately there's a lot of opportunity.

Imagine applications that are aware of and maximize the utilization of each server core as we move from dual- to quad- to octo-cores; fans, disks and cores that go into a lower power states when not fully utilized or idle; cooling systems that dynamically adjust to the ebb and flow of server load and energy consumption; and load that is seamlessly shifted to the Cloud when local resources are at maximum utilization.  Even how we pay for power can impact whether there is a financial incentive to save energy.  Many of these technologies and capabilities exist today but are implemented in isolation.  Let's think about how to integrate them as a system to maximize the synergy of their individual potentials. For more information on Akamai's sustainability initiatives visit www.akamiai.com/sustainability.

Nicole Peill Moelter is Akamai's Director of Sustainability