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Why virtual systems management tools are central to green IT strategy

Virtualization is central to many companies' green computing strategies. But effective green IT enlists virtual systems management tools for capacity planning and more.

Andi Mann

For many enterprises a common rationale for deploying data center virtualization is to achieve various "green IT" benefits. Companies can gain advantages from green computing that extend beyond environmental benefits; they can also achieve significant cost savings from reducing energy consumption, cooling requirements, data center floor space, etc.

The key to achieving green-IT objectives is to consolidate your server infrastructure to eliminate as many physical servers as possible. Luckily, virtual systems management (VSM) tools can help achieve this goal. This tip covers how VSM tools can help reduce power consumption, increase server consolidation ratios and dramatically decrease data center floor space needed for physical servers -- all in the service of achieving green-computing objectives and improving a green IT strategy.

Greener IT through server consolidation
According to recent Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) research, 69% of enterprises with a virtualization infrastructure said server consolidation is a critical objective. In fact, 81% of those enterprises reported a significant reduction in the number of physical servers after the launch of a virtualization initiative.

Improved virtual systems management produces better results for the following green computing objectives:
  • Reducing server power consumption with capacity planning and event management.
  • Safely increasing virtual server consolidation ratios with chargeback and compliance reporting.
  • Reducing data center floor space with capacity planning, and asset and inventory management.

Server virtualization allows organizations to consolidate multiple systems onto fewer high-capacity servers, such as blades and mainframes, which are designed to use less power and operate with greater efficiency. Server virtualization can augment the energy efficiency of IT components by sharing underused system resources, while dynamic server provisioning and decommissioning allow for dynamic server power management. In addition, server consolidation creates a smaller data center footprint with associated reductions in hardware, power, cooling and more.

The recent EMA study "Best Practices in Virtual Systems Management (VSM)" indicated a strong correlation between specific VSM disciplines and achieving green IT objectives through server consolidation. Specific objectives included increased server consolidation, and a reduction in power consumption and data center footprint through the use of VSM disciplines.

Reducing power consumption with VSM
According to EMA's study on VSM, enterprises that significantly reduced power consumption in their data center after deploying virtualization technology were more likely to use VSM tools for capacity planning (such as Novell's PlateSpin Recon or VKernel's Capacity Analyzer) and event management (such as BMC Software's BMC Event Manager or IBM's Tivoli Enterprise Console) than enterprises that did not substantially reduce power consumption .

When it comes to stacking virtual server workloads, capacity planning enables administrators to make better decisions so that IT can maximize the number of machines that can be shut down or throttled to save power. Event management then allows operators to track and correlate real-time activity -- including virtual machine (VM) migrations, application slowdowns, CPU or memory overloads, I/O bottlenecks, etc. -- to ensure that performance is not affected after machines have been shut down. Event management can also help automatically start up machines when additional capacity is needed.

Increasing server consolidation ratios
EMA's study also indicated that the enterprises that retired the greatest number of physical servers were more likely to use chargeback software to charge computing costs to the business unit in which they are used (e.g., VKernel Chargeback or IBM's Tivoli Usage and Accounting Manager) and compliance reporting software (e.g., Tripwire Inc.'s Tripwire Enterprise or Configuresoft Inc.'s Enterprise Configuration Manager) than organizations that had fewer retired physical servers. These VSM strategies are critical because they help overcome the top hurdle to deploying or expanding virtualization: interdepartmental political issues, such as getting business units to surrender physical servers.

For example, once a business-unit owner pays monthly rates for data center resources such as servers (either on paper or from actual budgets), he will quickly tell IT when these resources are no longer needed and can be shut down. Similarly, charging business owners less for virtual servers rather than physical servers encourages greater adoption of virtualization and creates higher consolidation ratios.

Conversely, business owners can be reluctant to move, consolidate or retire physical servers because it can be risky from a compliance perspective. Sensitive applications can end up on servers with fewer restrictions, critical applications can be accidentally shut off, data can be exposed or lost in transit, and unprotected network access points (especially on internal virtual networks) can be inadvertently opened to outside attacks. Automated compliance reporting helps eliminate this reluctance. With automated compliance reporting, IT and business owners can be confident that they can consolidate servers without detracting from performance, security, audit and control objectives.

Reducing data center footprint 
Of the respondents to EMA's study, those that measurably reduced the total floor space and rental cost of their data center used VSM software for capacity planning (see above), and asset and inventory management (such as Landesk Asset Lifecycle Manager or the Kace Kbox management appliance) than enterprises that did not.

Capacity planning makes it easier to identify compatible workloads that can be consolidated on fewer servers so that underused systems can be shut down. Asset and inventory management allows IT to then identify the physical assets that support these workloads -- including servers, related hardware such as network devices and cabling power supplies-- so they can be removed for measurable reduction in data center floor space and rental costs.

So while server virtualization helps to achieve the objectives of a green IT strategy, simply implementing virtualization won't deliver the best results. Managing the entire virtual system, with best-practice VSM disciplines such as chargeback, capacity planning, asset management, event management and compliance reporting, achieves more substantial progress on green computing objectives.

Andi Mann, is a research director with the IT analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). Mann has over 20 years of IT experience in both technical and management roles, working with enterprise systems and software on mainframes, midrange, servers, and desktops. Mann leads the EMA Systems Management research practice, with a personal focus on data center automation and virtualization. For more information, visit EMA's website


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