Green finance

Power-hungry datacentres consume a huge amount of resources. Energy is wasted as it enters the building and continues to leak until it reaches the servers. Adding to this, the computing hardware is always running but rarely functioning at maximum capacity

A growing number of financial services are realising that improving datacentre efficiency can reduce expenses dramatically. This is driving institutions to develop and use green technology, including virtualisation and cooling reduction techniques. The move to 'green' IT is partly being fuelled by interest in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. It is also possible that this more efficient approach will become compulsory in the UK, since datacentres are an increasing focus for governments looking to preserve energy. "Certainly, a couple of years ago people were broadly interested in being a 'bit' green, but now it's changing," says Nigel Stevens, IO UK MD. "People are realising that data efficiency can save costs. It's typical to save 40 per cent of power usage by going green."

However, the move to more efficient datacentres is not straightforward when storage needs are growing and the financial sector is sitting on top of vast amounts of legacy infrastructure. This has been compounded by consolidation in the industry. "When one bank buys another, they take the best datacentre - and this means there is legacy infrastructure," explains Pure Storage’s EMEA CTO, Alex McMullan.

So although banks are technology-orientated, they are also contained by a "huge legacy tail", says McMullan. At the same time, he says, performance demands are growing, as is the need for power. "They are virtualising more, adding self-service and all the provisioning, with developer agility and virtual desktops, but this puts higher performance demands on network storage and compute. More performance requires more power, and this generates more heat."

Adding to this, many existing facilities have been built without the technology available today, says Soeren Brogaard Jensen, vice president, enterprise software and managed services, Schneider Electric. "You can put in a good power and cooling system, but when you are 15 years into the investment, the IT rate of change has multiplied 10 times." Jensen argues that efficiency can be increased by visualising underutilised IT assets. "We can help get a picture of where there are candidates for further consolidation and where there is waste," he adds.

Location, location

Some firms are embracing the move to green by utilising datacentres in Iceland and Sweden which offer renewable resources and a naturally cold climate. According to Andy Soanes, CTO at Bell Integration: "A number of organisations are moving to providers such as Verne Global in Iceland, which can take advantage of a naturally cold climate and energy from renewable sources such as geothermal. These providers are also better placed to use technology to drive down energy consumption."

However, these datacentres will not usually be suitable for financial services' institutions such as investment banks, which need the latency of local networks to enable trades. Additionally, regulation often dictates that data resides within a certain jurisdiction.

Datacentres are classified for how 'green' they are in essence by the power usage effectiveness (PUE) measurement. As part of this, says Roy Illsley, principal analyst, infrastructure solutions at Ovum, efficiency is key. "If you put two watts in and one is used for the computers and the other to cool, that is not very efficient. So it is important to notice how efficiently they use energy that comes in: how much goes into power and how much into cooling."

Within this, it is important to assess whether energy is being used for valuable purposes. Illsley explains: "Making efficient use of energy involves assessing what's 'valuable work'. For example, you could have people playing games on their computer: under PUE that's 'work' - but it's not valuable work. A lot of organisations need to understand the workloads more and which ones are valuable and which are not."

As part of being green and improving overall efficiency, understanding data is key, says Illsley. He advises: "Corporations keep collecting data and so it grows. But they aren't using most of it. Understand your data - don't have masses of duplications. If you are going to go green, this is something you need to look at."

It is also important to understand and be able to visualise the datacentre environment. In order to do this, monitoring is important, says Stevens. IO has its own operating system, which allows the user to view PUE at any one time. IO uses two types of cooling technology: chilled water and free air. "The cooling is directed exactly where it's needed," explains Stevens. "This means the modules are efficient from the get-go. The cooling is directed only to the racks that need it."

Jensen agrees that visibility and monitoring are key. In order to achieve this, Schneider Electric's product includes a "cooling influence map,” he says. "That tells us how much each unit is delivering cold air in front of each piece of IT equipment. This results in a more efficient cooling system, and immediate savings."

The drive for efficiency is also seeing a move towards flash as a storage technology. Historically, each storage array was used for a specific purpose, but flash can host everything on the same box, McMullan says. Flash cuts costs because "you aren't cooling it so much - which takes the argument out of 'we are running out of space',” says Illsley. "Something as simple as replacing spindle storage for flash will save a lot of energy by swapping a technology with moving parts to something that generates less energy and heat," Soanes adds.

However, flash does not work for all storage needs. The technology is not resilient, so also needs to be copied elsewhere, Illsley advises. Additionally, Illsley explains: "It's great if you are accessing data frequently but when it's something you want to store and get back, tape is best. This can go on a shelf and is not consuming any energy."

Green futures

The green movement is gaining traction: the technology is already there and financial firms are realising the cost efficiency gains to be made. "It makes economic sense to do it. Especially in large organisations as they need to show they care about the environment," says Jensen. But how serious are financial organisations about going green? Some experts think the UK has been slower to embrace the trend than other countries. "UK financial firms are not massively serious about being green today," Illsley says. He explains: "The legislation isn't really there; nothing's really pressuring them. In other countries, companies are forced into green but in the UK, it's about how much power you can get into London."

Illsley thinks it will take government regulation to force financial firms into fully embracing the green movement: "In the financial services sector they have one eye on it. They are doing what they need to do but there is not a solid push. Until someone puts on regulatory pressure, they will do only what they need to do."

But in an era where energy resources are limited, Stevens thinks legislation will soon target power-hungry datacentres. He predicts: "Incoming regulation will make datacentres a big focus as they are such heavy power consumers."

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