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Letter to the Editor at US News & World Report

by Administrator on March 20, 2009

In case they don’t print it…

Dear Editor,

Thank you for your article, Powering the Information Age, in the April issue.

I feel compelled to point out that, while Internet hubs may have unique server-intensive energy demands, the myopic focus on server power requirements has stifled intelligent discussion of the biggest “power hogs” in most data centers today: disk arrays. Most analysts agree that organizations are growing their storage infrastructure at a much faster rate than they are adding servers. Server consolidation, enabled by better chip designs and virtualization technology, seem to be effectively cutting back the power demands for this equipment. Data storage, by contrast, continues to grow as companies are compelled by regulatory and legal mandates to retain data for protracted periods of time. One leading analyst claims that storage capacity growth will increase by 300% through 2011.

Interestingly, based on over 10,000 storage assessments conducted by my firm and by Sun Microsystems’ consulting arm, shortly to be published in a book I am co-authoring with Randy Chalfant, a former Sun CTO, an average of 70% of the capacity of EVERY disk deployed by an organization is wasted because it is filled by data that either (1) belongs in a green media archive (tape or optical disc), (2) is space reserved but not allocated by the vendor, (3) contains orphan data belonging to a server or user who no longer exist in the organization, or (4) is contraband data (bootleg MP3 music, video, or other files with no business relevance). Effective “data hygiene,” combined with better data management, could restore upwards of 70% of a company’s storage investment and constrain the need to deploy more gear.

You aren’t reading about this in the mainstream media because the earliest studies of IT power consumption focused on server power, studies that became the darlings of the EPA Energy Star program. The root cause of the energy demands of contemporary IT is a profound lack of data management.

So, why are the “green IT” vendors trying to solve the power consumption problem by selling us more gear to plug into the wall?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ernst Lopes Cardozo March 20, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Interesting angle: how much oil must the US import and how much CO2 does it produce as a consequence of laws created after 9/11 that force organizations to keep call records and internet traffic for extended periods? What is the true cost of these measures and how effective are they actually?

MikeRiley March 24, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Excellent point on practicing effective data hygiene. I hope you don’t mind but I wanted to emphasize this point in a blog post of my own (

psteege March 26, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Making better use of data is clearly goodness, but I have a hunch that human (and IT) nature have stunted any progress on this.

Do you have any data on percent of wasted capacity over the past decade or so? I would expect it hasn’t changed much.

Likewise, I’m skeptical that people will change in the future. It’s like the national savings rate – we all know we should save more, but we don’t.

Do you think people will change?


Administrator March 29, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Ernst, that would be a phenomenal angle. I hadn’t thought of mapping data storage on a per GB basis to oil consumed or CO2 produced. Think anyone has a stat on this?

Mike, good to hear from you again. I read your blog and find it very relevant.

Mr. Steege, to my knowledge, no one has ever done what Randy and I did from the standpoint of hands-on assessments until now. I agree that storage misuse has been around for a long time, but I know allocation and utilization efficiencies in mainframe shops were generally six or seven times better than they have ever been in open systems — a function of many things not the least of which was the cost of system memory and DASD that forced intelligent use, supplemented by SMS and HSM at the mainframe OS level.

My skepticism about change might rival yours were it not for the current economic crunch, which of course forces folks to do more with less (part of the mainframe storage efficiency driver back when DASD could store 8K of data and occupied the space of a modern refrigerator). Are any changes sustainable if EMC has its way? No. Are they sustainable if the industry as a whole keeps encouraging the idea of throwing more “cheap” hardware at waste? No.

But, I’m doing my best to help change behavior with our C-4 initiative. Let’s see if we make any headway with that one.

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