Shawn P. McCarthy | The lure of blades in green IT

Internaut'Commentary: Blade systems can improve service and save power, but you have to wait a while for the payoff

Shawn P. McCarthy

Recent trends in information
technology have exacerbated
the problems of
machine density and energy
consumption.

Federal data centers are
under great pressure to 'go
green,' and it's not just because
the idea is trendy and politically
correct at the moment.

Controlling ' or even reducing
' power consumption has
become a tipping point as
agencies assess potential return
on investment from migrating to new
systems.

Electricity is increasingly expensive, and
substantial cost savings can be uncovered
if large government data centers find effective
ways to trim the power consumptions
of their vast server collections.

Many vendors are now pitching blade
systems as the best way to trim government
IT power costs. In some cases, such
claims are true. But blade systems
have been around for
about five years, and one reason
they haven't taken over federal
data centers is that the economy
of scale that comes from
placing power supply, fan, coprocessor
and backplane connections
into a single integrated
unit hasn't been fully recognized
' and might not be until
blades occupy a large percentage
of a typical data center.

But if energy costs continue to
climb, cost savings through more efficient
use of energy could be the variable that
tips the balance in favor of blade systems.
If this happens, the federal data center as
we know it could soon undergo signifi-
cant changes.

New federal data-sharing efforts coupled
with consolidated systems and service-
oriented architectures have forced
federal IT managers to seek new levels of
processing power. Concurrently, budgets
are constrained. In many cases, this has
prompted government IT managers to
shift to lower-cost x86 architectures in recent
years.

What they see are systems that let them
increase processing power; merge multiple,
often redundant systems; and reduce
machine management costs while reducing
power consumption. It's a tall order,
but blade systems can indeed fill the bill,
as long as associated costs ' such as significant
reconfiguration and new programming
when moving away from a
legacy system ' don't overwhelm the
price of the package.

Recent trends ' such as increased
system performance, a shift toward
high-density computing and server proliferation
' have contributed to this machine
density and energy consumption
problem.

As a result, spending on power and cooling
has grown significantly in recent
years. In 2005, every dollar spent on new
servers required an additional 50 cents
for power and cooling, up from 21 cents in
2000, according to estimates by International
Data Corp.

Because government agencies are often
discrete entities with their own individual
operations, providing a single platform
can be challenging. There is a need for
greater standardization and interoperability
between agencies. The Federal Enterprise
Architecture is helping to nudge
agencies in this direction, but the transition
will be slow.

Yet if blade platforms can prove themselves
powerful enough and cost-effective
enough, it's very likely that agencies will
consider them an attractive, standardized
solution.

Bottom line: A transition to blades
could be a quick way to go green and save
power, along with its other potential management
advantages. But there are many
variables to consider. In some cases, it
may take yet another spike in power costs
to make the payoff worthwhile.

Shawn P. McCarthy is a senior analyst
and program manager at IDC Government
Insights. E-mail him at smccarthy@
idc.com.

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