Tom Simmons | Virtualization and the greening of IT

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Tom Simmons


VIRTUALIZATION is a hot topic these days, as is green computing. So it is little surprise that the two would go well together. One of the biggest advantages offered by virtualization is the promise of more energy- efficient and environmentally friendly information technology systems. Government is developing IT strategies at the federal, state and local levels to support green initiatives along with their missions. Tom Simmons, area vice president of federal systems at Citrix Systems, which offers virtualization technology, spoke recently with GCN about the challenges and opportunities of green IT.

GCN: Green IT is getting a lot of attention right now. How important is IT to the environment?

SIMMONS: The short answer is that it is very significant. The reduction of power requirements in data centers and office environments can be significant.

When you look at the cost of running data centers, we're talking hundreds of millions of dollars a year just in the federal government. By more efficiently using that power, there are estimates we can reduce power consumption by the equivalent of 1.3 million barrels of oil a year, and with the price of oil [north of] $125 a barrel that's a not-insignificant cost savings.

We're also seeing green IT impact the way some consolidated data centers are being designed.

There is a term in the industry called server sprawl, with operating systems and applications requiring more resources. With green IT, we can reduce the number of servers we have to install, reducing the footprint of the data center.

Finally, there is the impact of asset disposal. For a long time, the federal government was on a three- or four-year life cycle for desktop PCs and a three-year life cycle for servers. Green IT extends those life cycles in lot of cases and reduces the waste.

GCN: How much of a life cycle extension is there?

SIMMONS: For typical desktop equipment, we can see it go to the five- to seven-year range, so you can extend it at least double and in some cases more than that.

GCN: How is the federal government involved in green IT?

SIMMONS: It varies but is increasing. There is a presidential directive to leverage [the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool] in procurement policy.

[The General Services Administration], as the chief acquisition arm of government, is implementing initiatives across the board. We're seeing government-sponsored recycling days. We're seeing more interest by [the Defense Department] in the green aspect of acquisition plans, although we haven't seen it as a mandate yet.

There are mandated telework initiatives. A lot of the interest in telework started when everybody was concerned that the price of a gallon of gas was nearing $2. We are seeing a greater interest [by] government workers in using telework programs.

GCN: What impact are these efforts having on the environment and IT industry?

SIMMONS: It's probably too early to quantify the impact on the environment. But if you look at the demands on landfill space and on energy consumption, it will reduce the impact on the environment.

In industry, we are seeing new initiatives and partnerships. We just completed our industry event, Synergy '08, where onstage with us we had senior representatives from Intel, [Hewlett-Packard] and Microsoft.

Intel and Citrix getting together is a huge change. As a leading manufacturer of processors and a company known primarily for thin clients, there was not a lot of reason for Citrix and Intel to get together in the marketplace. The same with the likes of HP and Dell embracing virtualization solution providers.

GCN: Where are the big IT waste centers, and where are the greatest opportunities for improvement?

SIMMONS: Desktops and data centers are the two big ones, and it's hard to say which is bigger. It is hard to go into an office environment and not see a PC dedicated to an individual.

The practice for most PC users is to leave it on; you don't completely power it down. And that is a huge energy drain.

You're talking about a power supply in the PC, in the monitor, and who knows what else is plugged into it. We're working with GSA and [the Environmental Protection Agency] and the likes of HP and Intel on a Power IT Down Night, an awareness campaign.

Over the last four or five summers, we have instances of brownouts during high demand for power, and we want to be able to show empirical data on how we can reduce demand on the grid during the hottest time of the year. It will be a 24-hour period where we try to use IT as little as we can.

GCN: What is virtualization?

SIMMONS: Virtualization is the separation of the hardware component, the operating system, the application and the data, and recombining those on demand to meet specific workloads.

We can virtualize desktops and servers, applications and application suites, and authentication.

On one physical server, I can load multiple iterations of an operating system or multiple operating systems and make one server look like 10 servers.

The average server in a data center today runs at 30 percent utilization. Data centers are built out to handle peak time, so for most of the day, you've got 60 to 70 percent of your server capacity sitting idle, drawing power and waiting for that peak demand.

With virtualization, I can dynamically repartition servers and have them run on average at 60 or 70 percent utilization, and as workloads change, I provision the servers to change with them.

That creates a lower demand for the number of physical machines I have to have in the data center.

GCN: What other technologies contribute to greener IT?

SIMMONS: You're seeing a lot of innovation by the computer manufacturers in power management and cooling. [They are emphasizing] overall energy efficiency, not only from computer manufacturers but in designing your solutions so that there is less of a demand.

In the past, if I needed more capacity, I just bought more servers. Now the federal government, especially, is looking at ways of using existing IT resources more efficiently. As more applications move to [the] Web, you see technologies that increase utilization of bandwidth and processing power.

GCN: In a Citrix white paper you say, 'Green IT can be achieved without compromise to performance.' But there is no free lunch. Where is the trade-off?

SIMMONS: In reality, there is a trade-off. Anytime you are changing a paradigm, there is going to be a cost of transition.

In desktop virtualization, we're moving the cost from the desktop to the data center. That can produce a reduction in the overall cost, but there is an acquisition cost and the start-up cost of moving things to a central site. But the reason most organizations are looking at doing it ' beyond the benefits of green IT ' is the total cost of ownership.

It is far cheaper to run, manage and maintain. Far more organizations need to pay more attention to the user side of the equation.

It is easy to justify virtualizing a user's environment, but the cultural aspect of the user's experience has to be taken into consideration if you are going to have a successful migration.

That means training and a good implementation plan. Change is not something the stereotypical government organization is very good at.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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