Ben Hatton Addressing the ‘Comatose Server’ Problem in Data Centers

January 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

NRDC Data Center Efficiency Assessment

You can view the Data Center Efficiency Assessment report in its entirety at this link. Image courtesy of NRDC.

A report from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) came out this past year that has been making the rounds in numerous IT blogs, concerning the high power usage of the world’s data centers. One article about this report goes so far as to call the energy consumption of data centers wasteful, citing a few different reasons for the higher power usage. While it’s no secret that data centers do consume a lot of power, one major factor highlighted in the report is the existence of “comatose servers” that needlessly waste power within data centers.

A “comatose server” is basically any server that runs and consumes power, yet doesn’t serve a functional purpose for an organization. They are often the remnants of network projects where new servers are added, or where services are migrated off of one server and to another; often when this happens, the old servers don’t actually get decommissioned or removed from the infrastructure (often due to simply being overlooked). This results in a piece of equipment that is running and drawing electricity needlessly. They also include servers that are frequently idle and not active very often; even when idle, they still consume power. According to the report, an estimated 20-30% of servers in data centers today fall into this “comatose” category.

It pays to lose these servers

The report emphasizes the importance of reducing a data center’s power consumption by decommissioning these comatose servers, as well as the high cost savings that can be seen as well. It references a great example of AOL (yep, they’re still around), where they recently decommissioned over 9,000 comatose servers. This led to an estimated total savings of close to $5 million, a big chunk of which was in power and cooling savings. This shows that it is definitely worthwhile to take efforts to cut back on any of these power-sucking comatose servers that may exist in a data center.

Some steps to get things started

While the existence of comatose servers can present a daunting challenge, there are ways that the number of them can be reduced, and their impact on power use lessened. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Consolidate whenever possible: Making efforts to consolidate your organization’s applications and data onto fewer production servers has many benefits. A key benefit you’ll see is lower power usage by the data center for powering the equipment itself, as well as for cooling that equipment. For companies who colocate in a data center, these savings are often passed on to them in the form of lower power costs. Although consolidation projects are very involved and require planning, they can yield tremendous benefits for an organization, with less power usage being just one of them.

  2. Document everythingA little bit of documentation can go a long way when it comes to identifying any servers that are good candidates for being decommissioned. With proper documentation you can determine which of your servers may host an application that is no longer used in production, or servers that contain data or files that already reside elsewhere. This knowledge can help you to determine any servers you have that may be comatose.

  3. Consider switching to SSD where possible: Solid state drives consume much less power than traditional hard disk drives, due to the fact that they have no internal moving parts and are often lighter. This can result in less power that is consumed by servers with SSD’s, as well as less power needed for cooling them (since SSD’s don’t generate as much heat either). Another nice benefit of SSD’s is that they will only consume power when they are actually in use, so if the drive is idle at any time, virtually no power will be consumed. And, while these types of drives have traditionally been more expensive than hard disk drives, the price gap has been lessening over time.

Good for the environment and the bottom line

Taking efforts to reduce the number of any comatose servers in a data center can have huge benefits for the data center’s operators and tenants, both in terms of how much power the data center uses, as well as how much cooling is needed. Not only are changes like these beneficial to everyone’s bottom line, but they are better for the environment as well; that is especially a big deal in our industry!

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