Green Power

As a software company, there's only so much green Microsoft can spread -- but Redmond is a good place to start.

When you think of green computing, big data center vendors like IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. probably spring to mind. And each has a rich green story to tell.

The large hardware vendors make perfect partners. As a pure software vendor, it seems like Microsoft would have less to say. But even though Microsoft can't match the top-to-bottom approach of a Big Blue, the company can help customers save power and money-mostly by maximizing server efficiency and reducing the PC's electrical footprint.

The PC
Even if you're a straightforward shop with nothing but PCs and laptops for end users, you can still save on power, and the basic tools are built right into the operating system. Analysts at Gartner Inc. say that scrupulous use of power-management features carries real savings: some $43,000 a year for a shop with 2,500 machines. And if you go the extra step of turning off and unplugging your machines when they're not in use, you can save an additional $6,500, according to Gartner.

Group Policy can tightly and centrally control Windows Vista (and soon Windows 7) power settings. Machines can be completely powered down at night or put to sleep after IT-specified idle periods.

Vista power settings can also apply to USB devices and wireless adapters, and can impose a hybrid sleep state in which the data in RAM is saved to a disk before the machine goes to sleep.

Name Description
Automatic Updates This service is not necessary if you have disabled Windows Update in favor of manual patch management.
Background Intelligent Transfer Service This service is not necessary if you have disabled Windows Update in favor of manual patch management.
Clipbook This has nothing to do with the clipboard or with the ability to cut and paste.
Error Reporting Service This service can be safely disabled on a server.
Indexing Service This service may be required depending on the server's purpose.
Messenger Messenger services are unnecessary on servers running in lights-out mode.
Portable Media Serial Number Music players are not necessary on a server.
Print Spooler This is unnecessary if you aren't printing from the server.
Smart Card This is not needed if smart cards aren't being used.
Task Scheduler This is unnecessary on most servers.
Themes Themes are unnecessary on a server machine.
Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) The host server can manage UPS. This service is not needed in a virtual machine.
Windows Audio Audio is unnecessary on a server.
Wireless Configuration This service is unnecessary on both physical and virtual servers.
Source: The Architecture Journal

Chart 1 Services that May Be Disabled in a Virtual Machine

Thin Clients, Fat Savings
Thin-client vendors used to pitch ease of management, the ability to lock down systems, a common desktop image and protection of corporate data. Now the sales pitch is all about savings-most of which come from energy.

Fast Fact

Energy makes up half of IT budgets, and that number will rise to 70 percent next year, according to The Economist.

Germany-based IGEL GmbH, the world's third-largest thin-client provider, points to data from the Fraunhofer Institute that details the savings (Fraunhofer is a private German researcher).

On a 32-bit Citrix implementation, thin clients used 54 percent less energy and produced fewer carbon emissions than desktop PCs produced; PCs produced 1,200CO2eq (carbon dioxide equivalent) compared to less than 600CO2eq for the thin clients. The energy comparison included the PCs' need for increased servers and air conditioning. And a 64-bit system saves even more energy, using an estimated 74 percent less than a PC, according to Fraunhofer.

IGEL looked at two scenarios, one large and one small. The small shop had 300 workstations, and IGEL assumed that 225 of them, or 75 percent, were swapped out for thin clients. The power savings over a five-year span would be equal to driving "a Dodge Caliber RT 2.4 484,000 miles," according to the company.

Replace the same percentage of PCs in a shop with 10,000 machines, and the savings "equals 161 Dodge Calibers each driving 20,000 miles per year," according to IGEL.

The Server
Servers get more muscular, and thus need more cooling, every day. With increased densities, it's possible to save energy by putting more and more apps on a smaller number of systems. But if these servers aren't fully utilized, you can waste more power than if you kept the older servers. As Microsoft explains in a recent white paper: "The amount of electricity used by servers and auxiliary equipment worldwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2005 ... [and now] represents 0.8 percent of the estimated world electricity sales."

While Microsoft loves to tout the savings from server virtualization, it claims that Windows Server 2008 by itself can cut electric costs. Green was built into Windows Server 2008 from the get-go. For one, it works with the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) specification, a power-saving hardware standard supported by many newer servers.

Windows Server 2008 can also be streamlined through Group Policy, which can fine-tune the power-management settings. The best results are with ACPI-compatible hardware, where Group Policy can literally throttle the CPU up or down depending on need.

Microsoft ran tests in which Windows Server 2003, with standard, out-of-the-box operating installations, was compared to Windows Server 2008 running a similar setup. Windows Server 2008 used 10 percent less juice, largely due to improved power management and the fact that Windows Server 2008 has power management turned on by default.

Microsoft research shows that the average server only uses 5 percent to 15 percent of its potential CPU power. Yet fans and power supplies still suck in the energy. The goal is to more fully use CPU potential, so you can do more with fewer boxes.

The tests Microsoft did with Hyper-V were dramatic to say the least. For one test, Microsoft compared a standalone server running IIS to a server with four virtual machines (VMs), each running an instance of IIS-the software equivalent of four standalone servers. The machine with four VMs used just 3.5 percent more electricity than the standalone box. Even better, as more VMs were added to the same server, the incremental power needs remained minute.

IBM: Project Big Green

Apparently IBM Corp. believes that the mainframe is not just the ultimate server but also the ultimate green machine. The IBM System z mainframe can replace up to 1,500 Linux servers. Big Blue used this beast to consolidate its own servers. It replaced around 4,000 servers with 30 mainframes, and saved 80 percent in energy costs in the process. IBM's main initiative is known as "Cool Blue." Cool Blue takes an overall look at the IT infrastructure, including data centers, systems configuration, management and cooling. With that knowledge, IBM projects future power and cooling needs and then suggests a plan for energy reduction. Using these same techniques, IBM hopes to reduce its power needs over the next five years by four-fifths.

Redmond reader David Calabro, an information systems administrator for Transitional Work Corp., is a green proponent. He pushes toner recycling, places stickers reminding employees to turn off lights and even launched a new company Web site at He's also revamping the server architecture.

"Virtualization helped us to improve server utilization while adding roles such as SharePoint, yet still decrease the overall footprint of IT," says Calabro. But he thinks Microsoft could do more. "Microsoft has helped with Virtual Server and Hyper-V, but we aren't getting much from Microsoft as far as green goes," he says.

VMs Stripped to the Core
Moving to VMs alone can save power through consolidation. Organizations can realize even more savings by stripping these VMs of components they don't need, as Microsoft experts recently explained in The Architecture Journal, a Microsoft publication. Microsoft also advises minimizing disk-intensive event logging.

Technology Aspects
Virtualization Maturity Name Server Storage Network
Level 0 Local Standalone PC Local Disks None
Level 1 Departmental Client/Server N-Tier File server DB Server LAN Shared Services
Level 2 Data Center Server Virtualization SAN WAN/VPN
Level 3 Cloud Cloud Platform Cloud Storage Internet
Source: The Architecture Journal

Chart 2 Technology Aspects for Virtualization


Sun Microsystems Inc.'s green initiative is called "Eco Innovation." The approach sounds simple: Sun will help IT assess, optimize and virtualize the data center. Once the assessment is made, Sun offers a broad range of servers, from low-end machines to supercomputer-class boxes. It also has its own storage technology (gained when it bought StorageTek), as well as its own hypervisors, thin-client tools and virtual-management software.

Energy Maturity
Microsoft has an IT maturity model loosely dubbed "Infrastructure Optimization." The idea is to have a framework to help IT plan more efficient, resilient and productive IT systems-ones that ultimately add to the bottom line rather than sponge off of it.

Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Object Consulting Pty Ltd., based in Australia, is now applying that thinking to server virtualization, defining four main levels of server virtualization.

As you can imagine, as you move up the stack, efficiencies and relative power use decrease. Level 0 refers to old-style PC computing, where every machine stands alone and doesn't even use servers for applications, storage or data sharing. Level 1 is what we used to call client/server computing, where the PCs access applications on servers. Even though the notion is decades old, this is probably the most common form of enterprise computing today.

The biggest savings come from the two highest levels. Level 2, where the data center servers are largely virtualized and storage is served up via a SAN, is the highest level that an organization can reasonably achieve-at least today.

Green Tips

  • At a high level, imagine a simple and efficient network, with as few devices as possible
  • Application virtualization can reduce the application footprint
  • Reduce server and virtual machine (VM) sprawl, building only the VMs you need
  • Investigate cloud services and nail down true power savings

Level 3 is where the data center rests along with the data in the cloud, with applications and information accessed over the Internet. The premise is that huge external data centers will benefit from super-high density, as well as from the power efficiencies that come from pure volume and smart design. These data centers can also be built near already-efficient power sources; or efficient power sources such as wind, hydro or solar can be built adjacent to the data center to power or supplement it.

Fast Fact

High-density servers are nothing new, but now they're getting denser. According to IT consultancy Dimension Data: "In 1998, heat loads for dense rack-mount servers hovered around 5,000 watts per rack, increasing in 2006 [think: blade servers, 1U servers] to 32,000. As a result, we're seeing more and more data centers that are not fully populated from a physical standpoint, yet still can't deliver enough power to meet equipment requirements."

Green Data
Storage guru and Redmond contributor Jon Toigo has an idea for storage that not all vendors love. Storage vendors like nothing better than selling you more capacity. They talk incessantly about the explosion of data, and they say that the only solution is more disks.

Toigo believes there's a better way, which is why he started The Green Data Project. The project emphasizes that storage is one of the biggest electrical users and is growing out of control. While there are greener storage technologies, they are not the answer, according to Toigo. The solution, instead, is to pare down on what is stored, or impose what Toigo calls "data discipline."

"Green data is realized, in part, by culling out duplicate files, junk data, spam, contraband files and orphan data from your storage repository," Toigo explains on his Web site, "A 'deeper shade' of green is realized when you deploy an honest-to-goodness archive strategy at your firm, moving data that must be retained for your business or for regulatory reasons, but that has little chance of re-reference, onto green (low-power) media-like tape and optical."

Skeptics Remain
There may well be economic advantages to green IT investments, but IT these days is looking for a fast return-something green doesn't always offer, especially for small shops. "As for green IT, I think of it a lot like hybrid cars," says Brian Tinkler, an IT pro based in Madison, Wis. "Only the biggest zealots are doing it right now, because it isn't cost-effective. Why would I pay $15,000 more for a hybrid version of a car versus a traditional gasoline-only car? Same goes for IT purchases. I think we all want to go green; it feels like the right thing to do," Tinkler continues. "But until it becomes the most cost-effective option for the same performance, it will be hard to justify, especially given the economic climate."


Like rival IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. is also committed to green computing, and for 11 years has had a set of tools that fall under the "Cool Team" umbrella, ranging from printer cartridge recycling to thermal assessments for data centers. Virtualization is a key way that HP promotes not just preserving the environment, but-likely even more near and dear to IT's heart-saving money on power and cooling. Similar to Dell Inc., HP claims its approach can reduce data center power needs by more than 40 percent.

Anthony A. Di Salvo, information services manager for KTVU Channel 2 and KICU TV36 in Oakland, Calif., agrees. "It would've cost us more than $225,000 to virtualize and save $6,000 a year in electricity," Di Salvo says. "Or I could spend $55,000 on old-school servers with DASD, tape backups, tapes and software. That's to replace all 10 of my aging, 5-year-old-plus servers. Being a techie, I'd love to play with virtualization technology, but I like keeping my job. So you know which way I went."

Green Conclusions
Green IT dramatically and directly cuts business costs, and can change how IT is perceived in an organization and how it will be treated in the future. One issue is that many shops just can't expand unless they do it with green technology. "Many buildings can barely take any more air conditioning, especially high-rises," says Stephen Yeo, worldwide strategic marketing director for IGEL.

Even those not forced into green are starting to see real benefits, especially for infrastructure that has to be replaced anyway. "We recently shut down about 60 of our old NT 4 servers, and the estimated savings-mostly power-are in the $40,000-per-year range," says Redmond reader Jordan Helton. "We're only going to be turning on three to five more devices to consolidate all those services into the cluster, and on a newer operating system and current hardware."

Energy Dynamics

Microsoft has a new tool for tracking an organization's overall use of energy, though it does require the organization to have already installed the Dynamics AX enterprise resource planning suite-which is no small undertaking. The Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Dynamics AX lets companies measure greenhouse gases and power use. This data is then tied to business data so executives can measure the economic impact of their energy choices.

"We're a midsize business based in Perth, Western Australia, with about 475 computer users," explains Wayne Neilson, senior IT systems administrator for the Ausclad Group of Companies Ltd. Neilson's green initiatives include forcing all printers to default to "duplex" in order to save paper, asking all staff members to turn off PCs and laptops overnight to save power, and suggesting staff print side-by-side (two pages on one sheet).

Going green may cost a few bucks and may not pay off quickly for all shops, but as you plan future IT investments, thinking green is clearly good for the world-and for your long-term bottom line.

Doug Says ...
After reporting this story, I wonder if our computers will ever truly be green. The analogy is cars: We can make them more fuel efficient, but all that work is overwhelmed by the sheer number of new drivers. Our computers are the same. We have an unrelenting desire for more and more computing power.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't aggressively seek more efficient IT systems. We have to. With the ever-increasing demand for computing, if we don't make computers greener, our planet will be in a world of trouble.


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