Are Private Clouds Green?

By Sanjay Mirchandani, EMC CIO

  • Are Private Clouds Green?
"Green appears to be a natural outcome of our private cloud."

EMC’s private cloud environment offers many opportunities to improve energy efficiency.

People classify cloud computing and private cloud environments as cost-saving efficiency generators. They’re correct to do so. But I call private clouds green as well.

For the past couple of years here at EMC, we have been evolving our physical IT infrastructure into a private cloud. We have virtualized our Intel-based server environment. For stored data, we have employed information lifecycle management, energy-efficient Flash drives, and archiving technologies that have shrunk our data footprint and relocated it to much more energy-efficient SATA drives. We use state-of-the-art deduplication technologies for our backups and thin provisioning when allocating storage capacity to support business applications. We are improving the power and cooling systems in our facilities.
We dove into this private-cloud building and infrastructure improvement with efficiency in mind. We absolutely had to replace and virtualize our aging hardware if we wanted to improve the efficiency of the services we deliver.

But efficiency improvements result in less energy use, too. So far, “green” appears to be a natural outcome of our private cloud.
For example, our enterprise servers were probably less than 10 percent utilized in our physical data center. In our virtual environment, utilization hovers around 75 percent.

After we consolidated and virtualized the servers in our Santa Clara data center, for example, we decommissioned hundreds of hosts and regained a staggering amount of floor space in the process. EMC teams are now using that space for Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) initiatives.
Watching our IT groups worldwide take 1,250 servers down to 50 in the first wave and another 1,600 servers down to 40 or 50 in the second has been amazing for me. I like thinking about all that power and cooling we’re avoiding.

Thin provisioning of storage capacity is another way “private cloud building” equals “sustainability improvement.” In the old days, we provisioned storage to support some future peak-usage setpoint for a given application. Whenever that application’s storage needs ebbed, however, we were still “paying for peak” from an energy perspective.

Because a private cloud scales up and down elastically, we can provision and de-provision capacity automatically for average, not for peak. Theoretically, by boosting the storage utilization of existing arrays, we need to keep a lower number of arrays (primary and mirrored) powered up. Yes, we’ll scale and eventually buy more boxes; but until then, we don’t need them because thin provisioning so greatly increased our utilization of our existing storage.

On the client side, a virtual desktop infrastructure will let us swap thousands of power-hungry PCs for thin clients that emit less heat and consume far less electricity. We’ll add data deduplication to that mix and shrink carbon emissions even further.
Storage virtualization has come of age, and EMC Symmetrix V-Max systems, which are purpose-built for virtual data centers, offer big sustainability benefits. They consolidate more workloads into smaller footprints and are deployable with automated tiering, Flash drives, SATA, and spin-down for energy efficiency.

Customers tell me they are doing the same things.

"Private cloud building equals sustainability improvement."

The transition to more energy-efficient machines

I don’t think EMC’s customers view private clouds as revolutionary sustainability solutions in and of themselves, however. Rather, customers regard private clouds as extending the good things (virtualization, consolidation, spin-down, dedupe, tiering, and so on) that EMC offered even before it began talking about private clouds. To customers, a private cloud is green because it extends an existing green trajectory.
But there exists one connection between private clouds and sustainability that is exceptionally strong and often overlooked: faster data migrations off of old storage subsystems and onto energy-efficient new ones.

Storage environments are huge nowadays. Ours is 6.5 petabytes. And migrating petabytes of data isn’t simple. The storage-system refresh process becomes a lengthy ordeal disruptive to the business.

However, with sustainability being such a hot-button issue, we need more than ever to upgrade to new-generation hardware that is easier to cool and is less power hungry. We couldn’t migrate onto new storage as quickly as we wanted in a physical environment due to the disruptiveness of the migrations.

But in a virtual data center, it’s possible to migrate data from one array to another behind the scenes while applications are alive and without inconveniencing the business. We’ll retire power-hungry old machines faster because we no longer have to arrange for downtime windows in the middle of the night on multiple nights to perform the migrations.

This is a huge departure from past practice. Cloud allows customers to reap the benefits of placing a fleet of energy-efficient products into the data center sooner—products with automated tiering, Flash drives, deduplication, virtual provisioning, and power-source improvements.
At EMC, we were trying to migrate all the data from approximately 47 older CLARiiON arrays onto 11 newer, greener CLARiiONs. The migration took us two years to complete because we had to avoid application disruptions. In a private cloud environment, it would have taken us just weeks to get the greener systems online.

At each point in your process of evolving from a physical, old-school data center to a private cloud environment, you’ll be incorporating green-efficiency enhancements related to power use, cooling, floor space recovery, storage, servers, and the network.
Five years ago, our teams perhaps didn’t think about IT efficiency from a green point of view. Today they do. I believe we have a responsibility in this era of IT to track our carbon footprint and share that information with our customers. It’s a cumulative journey; every step toward the cloud makes us a little bit greener.

I multiply the steps we are taking by the thousands of data centers around the world dealing with the same issues. And when I think of a private cloud as nothing more than an efficient, elastic state that we want to achieve via technology, then saying that “private clouds are green” is not a stretch.

Sanjay Mirchandani is senior vice president and chief information officer at EMC.

"Saying that ‘private clouds are green’ is not a stretch."
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