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Most tech-savvy companies understand that they should power down their PC infrastructure overnight to help reduce costs and cut carbon emissions, but what about the energy-hungry servers that are locked away in the datacentre? Can you turn those off when you’re not using them? Is a virtualisation strategy enough?

Conventional wisdom in the IT industry rightly dictates that you should never turn off a server, just in case it fails to come back on again when you need it. However, power management specialists 1E are now exploring whether it may be possible to automatically turn off underused or unused servers, slashing energy use and carbon emissions in the process.

1E, represented in South Africa by green IT pioneers sustainableIT, made its name with its NightWatchman PC power management system, which allows companies to automatically turn off PCs that would have been left on overnight without losing any of the users’ work.  The company is now adapting this approach to the datacentre and have launched the second version of its NightWatchman Server Edition with key functionality of the product being to identify both physical and virtual servers that are not performing ‘Useful Work’, a term 1E have trademarked.

“Modern servers have power management systems but IT managers are either unaware of them or reluctant to turn them on,” explains Andy Hawkins, product manager at 1E. “Our software analyses whether a server is doing useful work and can then activate the power management system and throttle back the CPU or fan speed where it is not needed to do useful work.”

“In many IT organisations, it is true that they often don’t know what many of their servers are doing”, explains sustainableIT director Tim James. I have had a number of companies tell me that they have resorted to switching off ‘old’ servers to see if anyone complains, hardly best practice!”, James elaborates. In fact 1E’s research has found that typically 15% of servers are doing nothing and can be powered down immediately.

NightWatchman Server Edition raises the bar in terms of understanding whether a machine is busy, concentrating on the underlying ‘processes’ rather than the ‘processor’, which is the source of performance for traditional tools.  “The operating system alone uses between 50 and 60% of the processing capacity of a server”, say James.  “Unless you can achieve a greater understanding of what is running on it you have no means of making informed decisions around virtualisation, consolidation and decommissioning”, he explains.

NightWatchman Server Edition applies to both the physical and virtual servers to identify all known un-productive work and then reports on what is left. The software can identify a range of processes and activities, including CPU, disk, networking, etc. that enable it to establish what’s going on and what might be needed. If it is just running anti-virus scans, patches or doing backups, then it is not actually doing anything productive from a business perspective.

With the emergence of the “virtual world” and the ease of provisioning virtual infrastructure, unused servers are becoming more common place and the concept of ‘virtual sprawl’ is starting to take root. Hawkins explains that the latest version of the company’s software marks a stepping stone towards providing companies with the ability to track how much energy is used by each virtual machine and identify servers where the amount of energy being used can be reduced.  Virtual sprawl can be managed and eliminated by measuring the ‘useful work’ that servers are doing.

1E estimates that simply applying power management or ‘drowsy server’, another 1E function to servers can cut energy use by an average of 12 per cent, with further savings realised by commensurate cuts in the energy needed to cool the datacentre.  “There is a mindset where people are reluctant to apply power management in the datacentre,” Hawkins says. “We need to make people aware that this technology has been around for a little while and that the benefits are significant.”

 “Power management in the datacentre cannot be ignored with escalating energy rates and increased stress on power capacity in physical locations. Datacentre and facilities managers need to maximise savings and improve the way that capacity is planned and provisioned”, James concludes.

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