Finding Energy Efficiency in the Cloud: Why it Matters, and How to Get There

This is a guest blog post from Yoram Heller, the VP of Corporate Development for Morphlabs. Heller drives all partnerships and strategic alliances. Throughout his career, Yoram has been passionate about disruptive technology and contributed to open source startups, including being employee number four after the founders at Webtide (acquired by Intalio).

Cloud computing was a major theme at the recent Dell World 2012 conference in Austin, Texas identified as one of the major forces changing the IT landscape. Citing the many advantages of cloud- agility, cost, elasticity, scalability, as the reason for increasing enterprise adoption,  there may also another benefit in the form of  energy efficiency.   

We all recognize the need to strive for efficiency in all business endeavors, and energy consumption is no exception and of increasing importance to business economics and environmental efforts. In the realm of data centers, this makes even more sense. Cloud, as a catalyst for innovation and global progress, may seem like it will dramatically increase our energy consumption with every comment, like, and download, but the reality is that a well-architected cloud can actually mitigate the energy impact of our technology addiction.

The rise in data center capabilities and requirements cannot be overlooked, as data centers face a number of fairly unique challenges. First, they must operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week while providing excellent response time and storing a virtually unlimited amount of data—all with the goals of operating profitably and keeping costs down. With utility bills accounting for roughly 18 percent of data center budgets, it’s abundantly clear that better power efficiency will directly correlate to lower costs.

The two most glaring inefficiencies are servers and storage. In the case of servers, current utilization is estimated to be between 6 and 12 percent—an alarmingly low rate. This is due to fears of shutting down even a legacy app-running server for worry that someone, somewhere is using it. One study estimates that 15 percent of data center systems are "ghost servers," defined as unused or lightly used servers. These servers can consume 70 to 85 percent of the power of a server running at 100 percent CPU usage while producing no useful output. In the case of storage, the task of keeping vast amounts of data accessible is primarily done on spinning drives, which have a higher power draw than solid state drive (SSD) technology. However, until recently, the relatively higher cost of SSD has made switching to a pure SSD solution not feasible for full scale data center deployments.

Whether in an internet data center or an Enterprise IT data center, servers are configured with excess capacity to handle peak loads and ensure availability. This means that some portion of the time, systems are running below capacity. Handling variable loads is where Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) clouds excel, providing shared services to end users. The cloud increases server utilization, giving IT departments the ability to cut down on excess server hardware and at the same time increase service catalogues.

  • Integrated solutions, such as the Morphlabs mCloud Helix, combine energy efficient and power-dense Dell hyperscale servers with an OpenStack-powered platform to provide major benefits, such as:Lower power consumption via better hardware designs
  • 2U footprint via consolidation and hyperscale hardware
  • Better utilization via virtualization

The improved hardware designs are much denser—meaning multiple servers can be replaced with far fewer, thereby saving energy consumption while still supporting the increased workloads. The integrated, high density architecture consolidates many servers and provides built-in redundancies to address IT concerns of availability and performance. Taking a conglomeration of disparate systems and replacing them with a converged system simplifies administration, reduces costs, and reduces energy consumption. Returning to the 6 to 12 percent utilization estimates, the major benefit of the cloud is increased utilization by allowing multiple consumers to share resources. With better utilization rates, “ghost servers” can be eliminated, maximizing useful resources and reducing power consumption. The power savings can be seen through the mCloud Helix’s enhanced power efficiency rating of fewer than 10 watts/vCPU.

As IT infrastructures grow and data centers continue to tax resources, efficient systems will be a clear path to savings. An integrated cloud infrastructure stands as one of the most effective ways to trim power consumption without limiting capacity or IT capabilities. The mCloud Helix is a perfect example of three factors resulting in higher efficiency: denser hardware, improved utilization and a minimal server footprint. Dell hyperscale servers combine with an open-source-powered platform and Morphlabs’ technology integration and optimization to create one of the most price-performing and energy efficient cloud options available.

About the Author: Yoram Heller