A well-known social commentator once lamented on national TV that it’s not easy being green. For IT managers charged with implementing data center strategies that are more eco-friendly, the response might well be, “no kidding.” Turning a data center from inefficient to environmentally friendly requires a fundamental shift in the way corporate IT personnel think about data, the storage of information and the systems used to process the information.

To transform a data center to one that is environmentally friendly will likely require new capital investments along with a review and thorough understanding of the total cost of data stored by the company. By understanding data, how and why it is used and determining when it can be moved to lower-cost data storage options, IT managers will begin to understand the overall the impact on corporate costs.

How Much Power is Consumed

The energy used by companies to power data centers is significant. In 2006, the amount of energy consumed by U.S data centers was estimated at 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) (about 1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption) for a total electricity cost of about $4.5 billion. This level of electricity consumption exceeds the amount of electricity consumed by all of the televisions in the U.S. and is equal to the amount of electricity consumed by approximately 5.8 million U.S. households.1

The power and cooling infrastructure alone, which is needed to keep IT equipment in data centers at moderate temperatures, accounts for 50 percent of the total electricity consumption within data centers. Among the different sizes of data centers, more than one-third (38 percent) of electricity use is attributable to the nation’s largest (i.e., enterprise-class) and most rapidly growing data centers.2

Using current efficiency trends, the energy consumed by servers and data centers will likely double by 2011 to more than 100 billion kWh, which represents $7.4 billion in annual electricity costs. The peak load on the power grid from these servers and data centers is currently estimated to be approximately 7 gigawatts (GW), the equivalent to the output of about 15 base load power plants. If current trends continue, this demand would rise to 12 GW by 2011, which would require an additional 10 power plants. In 2007, carbon dioxide emissions for all US data center will exceed 44.4 million metric tons.3


According to a 2005 survey of AFCOM members (an IT trade association dedicated to providing education and resources for data center managers), data center power requirements are increasing an average of 8 percent per year. Power requirements of the top 10 percent of data centers are growing at more than 20 percent annually.4 At those rates, companies are more likely to be motivated to change their data centers than in cheap power markets.

Going green can have a number of meanings, but the most common is having the ability to recognize the environmental impact that you and your organization have upon the world. U.S. data centers data center release more than 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually and consume 100 to 200 times more energy that the average household per square foot.5 Becoming green in the data center is about reducing power, reducing carbon and driving profit to the bottom line.

In order for a data center to be considered green, many technology strategies need to work together. Server consolidation through virtualization and replacing older hardware with more efficient platforms is an easy start to a green data center. However, low-energy hardware does not address a fundamental component of the data center - large volumes of data are retained beyond their usable life, creating the need for high availability server and storage, which, in turn, creates the need for extra power and cooling in the data center.

To achieve a cost-effective, power efficient green data center, a data management framework needs to be employed along with virtualization and energy-saving hardware. Employing all three strategies will result in significant direct cost savings to companies and reduce the carbon load to the environment.

Large, multinational companies are beginning to make environmental needs a top priority. For example, Rupert Murdoch announced earlier this year that News Corporation will be carbon neutral by 2010. During an interview with Fox News, Murdoch said, "When all of News Corp. becomes carbon neutral, it will have the same impact as turning off the electricity in the city of London for five full days.”6

Gartner reports that by 2008, 50 percent of IT managers will not have enough power to run their data centers.7 Governments around the globe are implementing legislations to enforce energy performance standards and regulate energy consumption. These include the Japan Energy Law, the SPEC Power, the ECMA Energy Efficiency (ECMA TC-38 TG2), Energy Star, the European Union Directive for Energy Using Products (EuP) and EPEAT and consumer pressure to be a responsible environmental partner.

IT Problems With Data Management

Data center systems are straining under the large amount of volume that it must manage. In the past few years, data center managers have experienced a dramatic increase in the amount of data collected. Online transaction systems have made it faster and easier to collect volumes of information about products, customers and suppliers, and in recent years, companies have been required legally to save more and more data.

Sarbanes–Oxley, for example, requires financial data to be saved for seven years, while HIPAA mandates holding onto some patient records for 30 years. And Basel II requires credit, market and operational data to be retained for seven years. Adding to the retention dilemma is litigation concerns.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have been expanded to include electronically stored information that, in effect, require companies to produce descriptions and categories of data being stored, that data under subpoena not be destroyed, and data must be made available in a form that is usable to the requestor. The penalties for not producing requested data are clear - Morgan Stanley was recently fined $12.5 million for repeatedly failing to produce electronic documents requested by plaintiffs and regulators.

What Can Your Company Do?

The prevailing attitude among IT professionals is to save everything without regard to total cost of data ownership, cost or accessibility. The net effect is that regulation, litigation and the transactional business systems unwittingly conspire against businesses to over-burden the corporate data center with servers and storage needed to retain data without regard to the overall effect on maintenance costs or the impact on the environment.

Strategies to manage the proliferation of data and systems include virtualization of servers, server consolidation and powering disks on an as-needed basis (focused on efficient power supplies through tighter integration between system workloads and storage drives). These strategies are all valid, but the fact remains that 80 percent of data being retained in production systems is underutilized by the organization. Better data management techniques, such as data compression, data deduplication and tiered storage, can create significant energy savings.8

The massive storage devices in data centers, the physical space and power supply needed to support them are all focused on retaining data in the most costly, highest availability medium. Exponential data growth ultimately translates into the need for more space, more storage servers, more applications to streamline the data, added networking, more complex data center design, larger facilities, more air conditioning and power supply units and, in the end, a big fat power bill.

The data layer is where the real problems lie. Storage is consuming power, and the same principles that govern storage space saving should be applied to power management. Users need to identify what information is being stored, quantify where and for how long it is being kept, and detect redundancies and opportunities for information consolidation. Once this is known, IT managers can move forward with incremental backups, snapshots and other advanced storage technologies to sever the inactive data and reduce the overall volume of information.

Current data management strategies are focused on moving data to the most cost-effective storage for its usage. Enterprise data management moves data to the most efficient storage medium for its current use while maintaining data integrity and access for future use. The next wave of information management will be to move data to the most power efficient storage that meets the usage requirement. Power efficiency represents a shift in data center mentality that brings power considerations into the location discussion.

A comprehensive enterprise data management strategy is a key component in moving to a green data center; data can be moved to its most power efficient storage medium but still maintain the data access needed for business continuity, regulation and legal requirements.

Data archiving and migration are potent strategies that can directly help optimize storage capacity needs. These strategies optimize storage capacity utilization and reduce the associated power demands. Policy-based archiving and purging eliminates redundant copies of stored data, enabling significant data reduction for backup and storage applications.

Enterprise data management offers many approaches, techniques and technologies that can be combined in various forms to address the power and space issues. Tiered storage strategies enable companies to:

  • Optimize capacity utilization;
  • Consolidate data;
  • Reduce the data footprint using archiving, compression and single instance storage (deduplication) for structured and unstructured data.
  • Move data to the storage most cost effect media.

Enterprise data management provides several specific benefits that can help IT reduce its power consumption. It provides a base for:

  • Developing effective data archive/purge strategies to take your voluminous inactive data off the primary storage to low cost and low powered storage;
  • Consolidating servers, decreasing energy footprint for electrical and cooling, optimizing facility area of the data centers and reducing IT costs;
  • Reducing the need for power-intensive switches, backup servers, and other components.

Data is expensive in the direct costs from maintenance, storage, servers and power to run and cool the equipment. Effective data management can help organizations to manage data growth, decrease costs in the data center and lower the companies impact on the environment.


  1. Energy Star Program. "Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency Public Law 109-431." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, August 2, 2007.
  2. Energy Star Program.
  3. Energy Star Program. 
  4. Matt Stansberry. "IT Engery Crisis Reaching Critical Mass." DataCenter.com, October 24, 2005.
  5. Energy Star Program.
  6. Rupert Murdoch. "Remarks by Rupert Murdoch Chairman and Cheif Executive Officer." News Corporation, May 9, 2007. 
  7. Timothy Prickett Morgan. "Gartner Predicts Half of Data Centers will Run Out of Power by 2008." Gartner, December 4, 2006. 
  8. Charles Gary. "Why Aren'r You Archiving?" eWeek, August 29, 2005.

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