Efficient Storage Will Bring Down Our Debt to Earth: Anil Valluri, NetApp

It is imperative to keep a sustained focus on ensuring that our storage systems are green, efficient and clean.


In the last few decades, we have witnessed a dramatic surge in human-triggered CO2 emissions leading to substantial climate change worldwide. On the other hand, technological innovations have improved lives, but, they have also placed ecological and social burdens on the planet. Scientists warn that the global warming target will be overshot within two decades as manmade emissions have increased by 25% since 1997. To combat this climate change, we need to determine the sources of the emissions and how to cut back on them. And one such source is the Data center. How Data centers affect climate change? Data centers require significant amount of energy to operate and in most cases, they are powered on at full capacity round the clock. Because of this, data centers tend to overheat and necessitate a constantly running intensive cooling system, wasting up to 90% of the power they actually need. Currently, data centers only consume 3% of the global electricity supply, but this is growing at a rate of 12% a year. As per some recent studies, data centers are set to consume three times as much energy in next decade and accounts for about 2 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Experts say, this will put an enormous strain on energy supplies and pose a threat to the efforts to contain global warming. Another troubling fact is that most ‘BIG’ IT is still largely powered by the ‘dirty’ power, with over half of the companies relying on coal for between 50% and 80% of their energy needs. As the sheer volume of data beings to grow, and demands on IT systems increase, the industry needs to become conscious of controlling its carbon footprint. According to some industry reports, annual global IP traffic will pass the zettabyte (1000 exabytes) threshold by the end of 2016, and will reach 2 zettabytes per year by 2019. Global Internet traffic in 2019 will be equivalent to 66 times the volume of the entire global Internet in 2005. At this rate, it won’t be long before IT hardware, especially storage, emerges as the new threat to climate change discussions. Another report by a leading information technology research and advisory company, by 2021 over 90% of large data centers will revise their strategies due to major global socioeconomic and environmental trends. Several key industries play a role as major contributors of carbon emissions. For example, transportation, textile, agriculture, and manufacturing companies make up the largest percentage of fossil fuel consumers, and are much more difficult to contain. With the rapid growth of global demand for computational resources across industries, data centers will require more energy and water to keep temperature and humidity at the necessary levels. In light of this issue, enterprises should evaluate and include climate risks and adopt a strategic approach to green IT and sustainability. Will storage deliver the next green innovation?  My contention is that it should. While the carbon footprint of the IT industry is part of a bigger 'greener ICT' strategy/ concern, data growth and storage have a direct correlation. As the volume of data goes up, so does the need to store all this data, and consequently the demand for data storage systems. The good news is the industry is already thinking along these lines. According to a technology survey of 136 storage professionals from Europe carried out by SearchStorage.co.UK in May 2015, Green data storage is a priority for many of them, albeit for the deeply practical aim of saving money spent on energy. Overall, there is greater awareness about the need to ‘green’ the ICT industry. IT hardware is starting to get greener through measures such as reduced use of hazardous materials, maximizing energy efficiency, better product lifecycle management and greater use biodegradable components. Organisations are adhering more closely to standards such as Energy Star EPEAT when procuring IT infrastructure. There is greater emphasis on Power Utilization Efficiency (PUE) etc. while selecting a data center. Common sense measures such as switching off devices, lights etc. when not in use are gaining more awareness. Most importantly, companies are at least considering renewable and cleaner power sources to power their infrastructure.  All of these measures are useful and applicable to storage as well. But in addition, there are a few storage- specific measures that can have a deep impact on minimizing environment impact.

  • Reducing data redundancy: Today, companies not only store data but they also save multiple copies of this data in various formats. This may be necessary from a compliance and business continuity point of view, but it multiplies the cost (and energy consumption) manifold. Finding ways to secure the data such that fewer copies of data need to stored, and that too in efficient formats, can go a long way in minimizing the need for storage.
  • Avoiding overprovisioning of storage: With planning cycles being fairly long, most organizations generally over anticipate storage requirements and invest in storage even before the actual need arises. As a result, they end up incurring substantial energy costs for storage hardware that is just sitting idle. Technologies that allow for a ‘grow as you need’ approach – virtualization, cloud etc. can help resolve the issue.
  • More efficient data storage technology: Newer data storage technologies offer the most efficient way to store data, often without the need for any compression or de-duplication technologies. And the good news is that these become more cost/energy efficient as the volume of data goes up.
In 2010, Eric Schmidt, the erstwhile CEO of Google, said “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation up until 2003. That’s something like five exabytes of data’’. With the growing data volumes Eric’s prediction seems to be coming true as the next decade will be all about data & hence storage. And, therefore, it is imperative to keep a sustained focus on ensuring that our storage systems are green, efficient and clean. This will not only impact enterprises but our planet, our children and our very future. (Valluri is the President of India & SAARC Operations for NetApp)


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