Using virtualization to achieve green data centers

Green is the hottest color in IT these days, so make sure your knowledge of green data centers is up to snuff. In this Q&A, virtualization expert Toby J. Velte discusses the future of cloud computing for solution providers and how to use virtualization to green a customer's data center.

By Elaine J. Hom, Associate Features Editor

Green IT and virtualization are two of the hottest topics in IT and will change the current business landscape for solution providers and value-added resellers (VARs). Customers are asking about green data centers, and solution providers are clamoring to learn more about virtualization to help meet this goal. But depending on the type of solution these providers offer, be it hardware or services, virtualization will affect them in different ways. In this interview, Toby J. Velte, green data center expert and author of Green IT: Reduce Your Information System's Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line, examines how virtualization will affect different resellers, the future of cloud computing and the process of greening your customer's data center.

How do you think virtualization is going to affect the way resellers and solution providers do business?

Velte: It affects different resellers differently. For example, the hardware resellers, the folks that are today making the most public noise about being green, probably have the most to lose from the wave of virtualization that's hitting us. With server virtualization, you could possibly get from between eight to 15 virtual systems on one physical server, so subsequently you're going to see reduction in the hardware that's being sold. Though the hardware might be different and it might require some upgrades, the overall idea is to reduce the hardware, reduce the power consumption, the cooling, the footprints and those other pieces. At the same time, virtualization of the desktops is also popular. Thin clients are coming back, and you might see thin systems replacing heavier desktop systems, so there's an uptick in sales opportunities for hardware vendors there.

From a services perspective, there's a tremendous opportunity to come in and work on the virtualization pieces as part of an organization's transformation. So you'll have folks come in and make the plan and analyze pieces of those phases; some people will just focus on the execution of the plan and then leave, and others will attempt to do the virtualization process with the integration pieces and keep the service hosted elsewhere or on-site.

How does cloud computing factor into all of this?

Toby: Cloud computing will become the delivery mechanism for a lot of these services. The hardware used to be owned by the firm or the organization that's using the service. The hardware will still be sold, but it will be sold to the cloud provider. The services themselves will have a slightly different model. Instead of the process of "[deliver service], start new project, [deliver service], start new project, deliver," you'll have projects whereby services are converted to be delivered through the cloud and then that will pretty much be the end of the service provider's interaction on that particular project. There'll be some integration work and the usual customization work, but if the cloud providers are doing what they promise to do, there'll be no more interaction. The upgrades, the maintenance, the optimization and tuning of those systems should be done automatically by the cloud providers, so you could see a reduction in service provider bookings because of the cloud.

How can solution providers excel in the cloud computing space?

Toby: The offerings that will separate the winners and losers in the cloud space will be those that provide a value-add on top of just the basic service. More than just power and Internet and uptime and patching, you'll see providers excel when they provide a value that's probably particular to that vertical or offering, and very particular to the service. For example, let's say I was providing CRM applications to the world in the cloud; I would [also determine] what can I do as a provider to add value to CRM in a particular vertical. If I took financial services, for example, and I really focused on financial services, I would have to add value to that experience above and beyond just your basic vanilla CRM. I might include wealth management tools and tracking functions, BI around our clients, portfolios and things like that just to enhance the experience and justify my expenses back to the organization that's paying for the cloud.

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When you're greening a customer's data center with virtualization, what are some of the biggest obstacles you run into?

Toby: The biggest obstacle with green data centers is changing the hearts and minds of the folks that run those organizations: changing human behavior to understand that there's a new model, to accept it, to embrace it, to trust it and to go with it. For example, the same thing will happen when the cloud becomes more popular, what's commonly referred to as server-hugging. If I can't go to the server and see it, I take issue with that. What would I do if the server goes down? How would I deal with it?

The reality is these folks who want to have physical proximity to their systems don't go to their systems anyway; they just want the ability to go there if they needed to. Once you get folks comfortable with the concepts of virtualization and that what they're really buying is a processing service, then they can start to distance themselves from the data center. Now all of a sudden, it's not a data center; [they're] buying cycles or [they're] buying a service-level agreement (SLA) on a particular service. Then they become more comfortable over time.

What are the costs and benefits for customers who decide to go with green data centers?

Toby: There are a number of categories they can save on, not the least of which is power and cooling for those systems that they've removed. There are also space considerations. I've talked to firms that are in the planning phases of building a new data center, and we've worked out ways in which they can avoid building new data centers by using optimization techniques on their existing data centers. There's the administrative overhead -- an administrator can cover so many systems today. In a virtual world, with the proper tools, they can cover more systems and the administrative costs tend to go down. So you've got power, people, physical space being reduced as well as the hardware costs. At the end of the day, when you add all those together, you can get very strong ROI to swap out a data center and in 12 to 16 months, it will completely pay for itself.

How should you start the process when you're trying to green the data center?

Toby: I get variations of that question from clients all the time: "I understand we have an issue, I understand we need to do something about it, but I don't know where to get started." I know it sounds rudimentary but the first thing to do is understand the size and scope of your problem. Just measure what kind of power you are consuming in each location and the function of those servers -- what are they doing, what are they working on. It's sort of taking an inventory and starting to put metrics in place to monitor these things. How many applications do you have? List them out, who uses them, how many are not used at all, how many servers do you have, what kind of power in each location and so on. The first stage is always to seek to understand, do the measurements, evaluation, do an inventory of everything you have, then you can understand the size of your problem and we can get started on fixing them.

I had an epiphany while writing the book -- IT managers and IT departments in general have not had responsibility or awareness of the power they've consumed. Because of the change in the economy and environment, power will become a resource that needs to be managed today for the IT folks much like hardware, software or administration budget is. When the cost of power enters that equation, we're going to see a big uptick in green IT techniques and practices.

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