Data Centers Still Plagued by Power-draining "Zombie" Servers

August 04, 2015

"Data centers can consume a lot of power. According to a research paper originally published by IOPScience, worldwide data center electricity use grew 56 percent between 2005 and 2010, ultimately accounting for as much as 2 percent of all power consumption in the U.S. and 1 percent worldwide.

How much electricity do data centers use?
Moreover, in 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Anthesis estimated that the roughly 3 million U.S. data centers, powered by approximately 12 million servers, were using enough electricity to keep the lights on in every New York City household for 2 years straight. This output is also equivalent to that of around 34 coal-fired power plants.

Why do data centers burn through so many resources? For starters, they are the backbone of all online services, from mobile apps to official company websites, so they are fulfilling a huge amount of demand. They consumed 91 billion kilowatt-hours last year, and that figure is expected to grow 53 percent by 2020, according to the NRDC.

At the same time, their energy efficiency practices are sometimes lacking. Prospective data center customers should understand what power- and cost-savings measures any facility has in place before they give it the green light.

Comatose servers and other reasons for wasted power in data centers
The words ""data center"" and ""zombie"" are not often associated with each other. However, a recent study has highlighted just how many assets within data centers are more or less dead servers running.

One-third of all physical servers in data centers may now be drawing power despite performing no useful tasks, as per a 2015 research paper. This share has somehow not changed much, if at all, since 2008, when McKinsey reported that 30 percent of these servers were ""functionally dead"" but electrically very much alive.

""[This figure] is a massive indictment of how data centers are managed and operated,"" stated Stanford University researcher Jonathan Koomey, one of the 2015 paper's authors, according to Computerworld. ""It's not a technical issue as much as a management issue.""

Even for servers that do at least a little important work, average utilization is nowhere near where it should be for data center providers to make real progress in energy efficiency. The typical server only operates at 12 to 18 percent of its capacity.

What can be done to conserve power in data centers?
Not all data centers currently suffer from power waste, though. Many hyperscale cloud facilities, operated by firms such as Apple and Google, are already highly efficient.

But they account for under 5 percent of all electricity consumption. The challenge is in streamlining small and medium corporate and multi-tenant data centers.

The NRDC has offered some first steps that could get these facilities on track to big savings. For example, performance incentives should be aligned between data center providers, carriers and multi-tenant customers so they are motivated to save power whenever and wherever possible.

Better metrics for tracking server utilization may also be handy. Finally, disclosure of carbon usage could provide potential customer and the public with valuable information for making smart decisions about where they house their IT services."



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    "Data centers can consume a lot of power. According to a research paper originally published by IOPScience, worldwide data center electricity use grew 56 percent between 2005 and 2010, ultimately accounting for as much as 2 percent of all power consumption in the U.S. and 1 percent worldwide. How much ...