With Indian electricity rates among the most expensive in the world, chief information officers (CIOs) responsible for large data centres at companies such as Maruti Udyog Ltd and Tata Teleservices Ltd, as well as the government’s National Informatics Centre, are finding new ways to trim energy costs: migrating to energy-efficient computer servers that reduce operational and cooling costs.
On an average, power and cooling costs contribute between 20% and 45% of the total cost at a data centre, which typically houses several computer servers that handle large amounts of data for users such as banks or telephone firms. For every square foot a server occupies, for instance, an extra 3sq. ft is used for support structure, such as the air-conditioners and power back-ups.
Cost cutting: With power and cooling costs making up 45% of the total cost at a data centre, IT managers in sectors that require large data centres are increasingly veering towards energy-efficient servers
Analysts say that in an emerging market such as India, where sectors such as telecom, information technology, banking and financial services and manufacturing—all of which require large data centres— are booming, IT managers are increasingly veering towards energy-efficient servers.
“In the next two years, as consolidation strengthens in the servers space and virtualization happens, there will be increased deployment of power saving solutions and products by IT managers in India,” says Naveen Mishra, analyst at research firm Gartner Inc.’s offices here.
Maruti, which has two data centres and updates its technology almost every two years, plans to upgrade to energy-efficient computing by the year-end. “Energy-saving products can reduce operational costs, such as power and cooling bills, for any organization by 20%-25% and have become an important factor for CIOs. We are planning to partially install these products at one of our data centres at the end of next year,” says Rajesh Uppal, IT general manager.
Uppal’s plans are music to the ears of vendors such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Intel Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. While Intel and AMD are addressing the power issue at the processor level of their Green IT products, companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Inc. and Sun are working on better designed software and products, reflecting a shift from high-density computing.
A recent report by US research firm Springboard Research estimates the largest amount of spending (40%) by IT vendors is focused on increasing the energy efficiency of their products, followed by efforts in recycling and disposal (30%), and manufacturing in a more environment-friendly way (25%).
“As companies become more accurate in determining what percentage of energy costs are allocated to the IT department, you will see cost savings being the key driver of Green IT investments,” the report says. Springboard estimates that more than $5 billion (Rs20,650 crore) is spent annually on powering computers in the Asia-Pacific region, with more than 66% of this spending wasted on systems that are in idle mode.
One of the most recent announcements on designing and developing energy efficient products has come from IBM. In June this year, the firm announced its Project Big Green in India to design and develop products and services to help customers reduce data centre costs by half.
IBM, which in India has executed data centre projects exceeding 250,000sq. ft for some 55 clients, claims that for an average 25,000sq. ft data centre, its clients can save energy costs by 42% using its green technologies and products. India houses one of the largest IBM data centres in the Asia-Pacific region with more than 4,800sq. ft.
AMD launched its first energy-efficient servers in 2003 and has seen an appetite for these products among customers only in the last two years. Last year, it signed an agreement with Mumbai-based textile firm Raymond Ltd for high-end AMD Opteron processor-powered servers and 15 terabytes of storage from H-P.
An AMD energy efficient processor consumes 45 watts of power against a regular processor, which uses 65 watts. The electricity bill for 500 energy-efficient processors in three years comes to Rs9.8 lakh compared with the Rs14 lakh-worth electricity used for 500 regular processors.
Based on these estimates, AMD claims that any enterprise with a personal computer installation of 500 units can save up to Rs4.3 lakh over three years, if these PCs are used 365 days a year, eight hours a day.
Sun marked its entry into energy-efficient data centres and servers with its chip multi-threading technology in December 2005.
“This technology allows systems to consume only up to one-fifth the power in standard working conditions (saving up to 80% energy and power),” says Arnab Roy, general manager, marketing, at Sun.
At Tata Teleservices, which has around 300 servers, electricity and cooling bills are the single largest expense contributing around 40% of the cost of the servers. H-P solutions, which it installed on its Intel-based servers last year, have helped it save a fifth in electricity bills year-on-year.
“Today there is more awareness about reducing power consumption and costs, and people have started demanding less power-hungry products. All manufacturers are working on the ideal combination—powerful computing products that occupy less space, are energy-efficient and are cost-effective,” says Navin Chadha, chief information officer at Tata Teleservices.
NIC, which hosts a large number of government services and applications on its 2,000 servers across India, has found that heat density is a cause for concern, especially after the centre began using so-called blade server technology that enables high density, high performance computing, to accommodate a larger number of servers. In the last two-three years, the heat generated at its centres has increased three-four fold and traditional methods of floor and wall air-conditioner based cooling has been found inadequate.
“When we set up a fresh data centre, over 50% of the cost is around cooling and power infrastructure,” says Neeta Verma, senior technical director and project coordinator at NIC. But the progress of shift to energy-saving computers is slow. For AMD, its low-power consuming processors and mainstream processors contribute 90% of volumes, while high-performance special editions would be at less than 10%. “In the US, which is a mature market, over 40-45% of our customers use energy efficient products. In India, because awareness is still picking up, only over 20% of our customers are currently looking at energy-efficient data centers,” says Vamsi Krishna, senior engineer at AMD India.