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Chief information officers need to take immediate steps to reduce information technology's spiraling energy consumption, which poses a threat to the environment, a research firm said.
Escalating use of power-hungry data centers are helping to boost the emission from electricity-producing plants contributing to global warming, Gartner said in a recent report. In addition, increasing consumption, along with rising prices, could help energy costs reach more than 50 percent of an overall IT budget in the next few years, from less than 10 percent today.
"IT's age of innocence is nearing an end," Steve Prentice, chief of research at Gartner, said, according to a press release. "Technology's clean and friendly weightless economy image is being challenged by its growing environmental footprint."
Gartner has found a significant increase over the last 12 months in deployments of high-density servers, which consume more power than other technologies. Besides using more electricity, these beefy, heat-emitting servers also require more electricity for stronger cooling systems.
"The power needed for a rack of high-density server blades can be between 10 and 15 times higher than the power needed for a traditional server environment," Gartner researcher Rakesh Kumar said.
In general, the total figure for data center power consumption, when you add storage devices, networking controllers, uninterrupted power supplies and air conditioning, is at least double that used on servers alone, Gartner said.
IT's energy waste hasn't gone unnoticed by lawmakers, who are aiming legislation at the problem. Proposed laws are pending in the European Union and North America that would penalize organizations that fail to better manage energy use in data centers, Gartner said. In addition, growing activism in consumer markets could have an impact on short-term profitability, and long-term survival of an enterprise.
To start fixing the problem, Gartner advises organizations to use their wallets to push vendors toward creating energy-efficient systems that can operate within targeted power and heat limits.
"The best answer to the power and cooling issues is greater design focus at the component level, coupled with the ability to manage power at a high level," Kumar said.
Realistically, though, it's unlikely energy-efficient components with the needed power-management features would be available in the next five years, Gartner said. In the meantime, CIOs could make better use of their existing equipment through workload balancing and virtualization to delay moving toward high-density systems.
Longer term, IT organizations need to build data centers in a modular way, so that power consumption can be scaled with growth.
"The writing is on the wall for CIOs," Kumar said. "Whatever way you look at it they have to take control of the impending power crisis and data center management will be crucial to that."