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Data center power: the cost reality

U.S. data centers rack up billions in electricity costs annually. Here's how to get power costs under control before the energy crisis hits you

By , Network World
February 18, 2008 12:09 AM ET

Network World - Adam Gray, CTO of Novacoast, isn't responsible for the power and cooling costs of his company's two data centers, and he isn't too worried about the effect of escalating energy prices on his IT operations. Novacoast is a Santa Barbara, Calif., IT professional services firm with 100 employees and 17 locations.

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"California, where our primary data center is located, has pretty well stabilized power costs in the last few years, so we haven't seen any big increases," Gray says. "We have an infrastructure in place to grow without having to add a lot of servers. [Power costs] are not a major driver for us."

One reason Gray isn't too worried about power costs is that Novacoast recently finished a server virtualization effort, migrating from 25 1U servers to two blade servers. Now Novacoast can turn up virtual servers in minutes to support software development efforts for its clients. Virtualization also has reduced the firm's monthly electric bill by a few hundred dollars.

Gray says he'd pay more attention to energy use if his electric bill was higher. That's the reason he hasn't factored energy efficiency into his ongoing evaluation of servers from Dell, HP and IBM.

"Energy efficiency is not a priority," Gray admits. "Our priorities are support, hardware replacement, mean time between failures, cost and reliability. The power consumption cost is a very small percentage of our IT costs. But if we lost a server, that would be catastrophic. Energy efficiency is important, but it doesn't make our top five."

Gray is not alone. Most IT executives haven't focused on their IT equipment's power costs, and they aren't taking energy efficiency into account when they choose servers, storage devices or network gear.

In a recent survey of 590 Network World readers, 68% of respondents said they were not responsible for power bills related to their data center's IT equipment, and only 21% had established an ongoing dialogue between IT staff and facilities management personnel.

A majority of IT executives - 51% - don't consider energy efficiency in IT product evaluations, the survey found. In addition, more than 50% of the respondents failed to take the most obvious steps to reduce IT power consumption, such as removing servers no longer in use. The e-mail survey was conducted in November 2007.

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This lack of interest in IT power costs appears to be changing, particularly at Internet companies, financial institutions and leading-edge retailers.

More IT executives are coming to grips with a grim reality: Data-center power and cooling costs are the hidden enemy of IT departments. They creep up on unsuspecting CIOs like deadly mists and choke off their ability to deploy new equipment and applications.

"If a CIO has not had to build a new data center recently, this is likely to be a huge surprise," says Ken Brill, founder and executive director of the Uptime Institute, which provides consulting services to more than 100 data center operators.

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