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There's plenty of speculation that the current state of the economy will greatly benefit open source technology, and you know an idea is taking root when mainstream IT conferences include presentations about implementing FOSS solutions in enterprise.

Desmond Atkinson, with UK-based capacity planning firm Metron Technology Limited, plans to lead a session about open source virtualization at a conference next month sponsored by the Computer Measurement Group (CMG). I caught up with Atkinson recently to get his thoughts onwhat CTOs need to know about green IT, where it's headed, and why the term is actually a misnomer.

LH: Everywhere you turn these days, someone's talking about "green" IT, and virtualization is typically one of the top recommendations for going green? Why is preferable over (or in conjunction with) other options?

DA: The key consideration for most users is the ability to use virtualization to reduce server sprawl by server consolidation. This has two great virtues: fewer servers require less power to run, and fewer servers [that] require less power to keep cool. Higher-level virtualization functions provided by some vendors such as Vmware also provide other “green” benefits, e.g. the ability to close down quieter servers in a cluster and migrate workloads on to fewer servers until more capacity is required.

Of course significant “green” (and consequently cost) savings can also be achieved on the desktop estate. Steps such as best usage of power-down states can all reduce power consumption significantly.

Virtualization of course provides many potential benefits beyond saving power which is why it has become so popular so quickly, e.g.:

  • More centralised and effective management
  • Rapid provisioning providing more agility to the IT infrastructure
  • The ability to cluster systems for effective resource control and greater resilience

LH: What are some tips for going green without breaking the bank?

DA: Discuss your power usage with the utility company that supplies it. They may provide you with deals and incentives that can save you money either immediately or as you upgrade your equipment and data center(s). When purchasing new IT equipment, treat efficient power consumption as one of your key selection criteria. Review the airflow in your data center -- does the cooling air go directly to where it is most needed and then get expelled efficiently?

On the desktop most users run Microsoft Windows but may not be making best use of the power options available in the Control Panel. Useful power savings can be achieved by choosing appropriate power-down and standby options. Review what equipment is left on overnight and through the weekends -- can some of this equipment be placed on standby or even powered off completely?

When costing equipment or making other changes, try always to think in broad terms. For example, be sure to reconcile immediate capital costs with potential revenue savings. Many of these steps can provide useful savings with only minor up-front costs.

LH: What can a CTO say to convince upper management that virtualization is a long-term way to save money without sacrificing infrastructure stability and security?

DA: Virtualization is not on the bleeding edge, but is a mature and proven technology. Many organizations have already tackled the issues surrounding virtualization successfully and enjoyed major benefits as a result. Use reference visits to similar organisations to reassure your management. Best of all, put them in touch with their peers such as CFOs in those other companies to see how they view virtualization. Also, organizations such as Gartner, the Butler Group, etc. all have briefing papers and seminars that discuss these issues in depth.

LH: Where do you see green IT in general, and virtualization specifically, in the next five years?

DA: Green is already mainstream. Indeed a real danger is now one of “greenwash,” i.e. all suppliers maintaining they are green. The next phase of green IT may well focus more sharply on the whole lifecycle cost in green terms. Regulation and legislation may seek to move hidden costs such as disposal and waste management up-front so that the initial purchase cost reflects these.

IT will continue to be seen as an enabling technology to assist green initiatives, e.g. reducing transport costs through more homeworking etc. There is every likelihood that concerns for the environment, for efficiency and for profitability will be seen as closely aligned.

As regards virtualization, it seems likely that it will become increasingly ubiquitous. The separation of the physical from the virtual seems unstoppable now at both the server and desktop level (and this includes storage as well). It will help to make the move towards cloud computing possible. It will require major evolutionary changes from companies such as Microsoft who have clearly seen how they need to innovate and move forward in the face of smaller and more agile competitors.

LH: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

DA: In a real sense “green IT” is a misnomer. All IT is costly for the environment in terms of manufacture, transport, revenue costs and disposal requirements. However the great benefits that IT brings mean that we want to make use of this technology while minimizing those environmental costs.

There is no doubt that server consolidation as provided by virtualization is a significant contributor to reducing environmental costs. However users should not regard server virtualization as a sufficient step. Companies and organiations need to consider the whole IT lifecycle. The good news is that the needs of profitability and “greenness” are well aligned and can move forward together.

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