Crunch time for green government IT

This ‘green’ Information Communication Technology (ICT) trend may have grown out of environmental concerns, but hard-bitten business drivers are ensuring it is getting board-level attention. And the Carbon Trust’s estimate that 10 per cent of all the electricity being used in offices is attributable to computers is enough to make any IT director look twice at the electricity bill, particularly when it predicts this will rise to nearer 30 per cent by 2020 and spiralling energy costs are also factored in.

Setting green goals
As the UK’s largest IT consumer, the government has stepped up to the challenge of introducing green technology into the public sector, recognising it has a major role to play in improving efficiency, at the same time as reducing the impact of its carbon footprint. But transformational technologies exist alongside new techniques, including everything from intelligent building systems to virtualisation, to get the most efficient performance from an IT infrastructure. The trick is knowing what to target and how best to deliver on emerging public sector green goals.
    
The recent publication of the ‘Greening Government ICT’ white paper by the Cabinet Office set out some challenging carbon-cutting targets to government organisations that will demand a more strategic approach to using all parts of the IT infrastructure more efficiently. Just as the Gershon report formed the foundations of many a shared services target, so this white paper called for public sector energy consumption carbon neutrality by 2012 and carbon neutrality across ICT lifecycles by 2020. Is this possible?
    
In the report Tom Watson, minister for Transformational Government, stated: “The Greening Government ICT strategy sets out the first steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint. We are the first government in the world to look at our ICT in this way and we want to see changes taking place immediately.”
    
Fighting green talk this may be, but the detail of government plans is just as ambitious in its scope. “We want to see best green practice throughout government – computers switched off overnight, printers defaulting to duplex, data centres efficiently cooled,” Watson added.
    
The white paper highlighted simple steps like how turning off just one computer overnight can save 235 kilograms of CO2 in a year, or how data centres can make increased use of ‘free’ air cooling, just by regulating the flow of fresh air pumped from outside into a facility. And technology is also seen as a transformational generator of wider environmental benefits, with the potential for further reduction of carbon emissions through its ability to enable remote or home-working, which reduces commuter emissions.  

Implementing virtualisation
One such technology area already delivering tangible efficiencies that go directly to the bottom line of Green ICT, and which cannot afford to be overlooked, is virtualisation. The government white paper makes only a fleeting reference to “implement storage virtualisation and capacity management,” as part of wider, server-optimisation technology based carbon reduction IT activities. But the emergence of technology that can essentially separate key computing components, like the operating system (OS) from its underlying platform resources, has the potential to address more than just server consolidation-led work.
    
The virtualisation market has grown rapidly into a multi-billion euro market to accommodate the diversifying needs of public and commercial organisations alike. But in terms of enabling the delivery on the government’s green ICT objectives, the technology appeals in many ways to hard-pressed public finance executives. It can be used to extend the lifecycle of ICT purchases, reduce overall number of servers, lengthen the useful life of PCs and laptops, and implement an active power management policy within IT infrastructures.

Increasing efficiency
The biggest initial gains can be made through its ability to increase data centre efficiency and enable overall infrastructure optimisation. According to Lewis Gee, vice president for the EMEA region at VMware, the number of organisations embarking on server consolidation projects using virtualisation has grown hugely over the past twelve months.
    
Gee observed that organisations implementing virtualisation typically see consolidation ratios of around 8:1 – that is, one physical server supporting eight virtual machines (each equivalent to a single hardware server). In larger enterprises these ratios can climb to 20:1 or even 30:1.
    
“Each virtual machine represents a certain amount of power that would otherwise have to be consumed by hardware. At today’s rates, this equates to about 8,000 kilowatt-hours [kWh],” said Gee. “To put this into perspective, this is almost double the amount that an average household would use per year, which has been estimated at 4,600 kWh by the UK government’s trade department.”
    
Furthermore, according to VMware’s own estimates, shifting an application over to run within a virtual machine can save an average of just over £150 per year in electricity costs, while savings in cooling costs can add up to an additional £188. Best of all in this time of energy price hikes, these are not one-time savings, but ones that will continue to accrue year after year.
    
“A typical server might be running at 400 watts [W] supporting one application – not a very efficient ratio of work completed to power consumed. With ten physical servers running, the overall power budget would be 4000W,” added Gee. “A virtualised server hosting ten applications at the same time would create a much better overall [work-to-power] ratio, as each application could therefore be rated as using only 40W. The overall cost of running the data centre becomes lower and that is to ignore the cooling system costs that are also reduced.”

Real-world experiences
Drawing on commercial sector experience, the benefits outlined by Gee are backed by the real-world experiences of VMware customers, like one of the leading UK specialist financial services firms, the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group. Lasse Thomsen, Ecclesiastical Insurance Group IT infrastructure consultant said: “With VMware Infrastructure 3, we have been able to achieve a consolidation rate of 60:1 and have increased our space in the data centre by 50 per cent, leading to significant cost savings in terms of management as well as power and cooling.”
    
From a public-sector perspective Jim Carrington-West, head of IT and facilities management at Sevenoaks District Council, explained: “As a public organisation, we are driven to achieve the best return on our investment in IT. Using VMware, we have achieved significant efficiency savings relating to deployment and management of server infrastructure.”
    
He added that the council has also reduced its data centre’s space requirements by about 50 per cent and will achieve further gains from virtualisation in the future as part of our overall asset management strategy. “So far we have managed to achieve about £80,000 through identified efficiency savings,” said Carrington-West. “At the end of the project, we expect to achieve consolidation ratios of about 20 virtual machines per physical host.”

Easy management
In the wake of government pressure, many government organisations are likely to look to virtualisation in the quest to become more energy efficient and therefore greener over the medium term, as opposed to just benefiting from the cost-cutting server consolidation requirements, which virtualisation brings at the offset. This is because virtualised infrastructures offer significantly easier management and flexibility than their physical equivalents.
    
“We will start to see this as one of the primary drivers behind deploying virtualisation,” said Gee. “Moving to sustainable energy supplies is one way for organisations to meet their own internal corporate social responsibility pressures, but the flipside of this is also making the best use of any energy that is used.”
    
Mark Ward, principle network analyst at Somerset County Council, endorsed this view, saying: “Prior to our deployment of VMware ESX, we were adding at least four new servers per month to our data centre. Following the implementation, no new servers have entered the data centre. In fact, the opposite has happened; every week we are removing an average of six servers, allowing us to experience significant cost savings, as well as decrease our carbon footprint.”
    
For every server virtualised, VMware estimates its customers save about 7,000 kWh, or four tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. The vendor has virtualised more than 6 million server workloads since 1998, resulting in an estimated energy savings of nearly 39 billion kWh, or roughly $4.4 billion (£2.4 billion). This is roughly equivalent to the total energy consumption of Denmark for one year.
    
PCs virtualised and hosted on servers in the data centre can also reduce power consumption and cost by 35 per cent. Hosting desktops in the data centre can also double the replacement cycle of PCs or thin clients, reducing the environmental impact associated with manufacturing and procuring new equipment.

Intelligent load balancing
VMware is introducing new ways of furthering the green benefits of virtualisation by introducing intelligent load balancing to allow host machines to be switched off when utilisation rates fall, or distributed power management (DPM).
    
“Most servers and desktops today are still consuming 70-80 per cent of their rated power even when idle,” said Stephen Herrod, VMware chief technology officer. “VMware is able to deliver substantial power and cost savings through innovative power management capabilities in our virtualisation solutions that safely power down or throttle servers when not in use. By powering down servers and desktops during inactive periods such as evenings or weekends, we can help customers save another 25 per cent or more on power consumption without affecting applications or users.”
    
Some organisations may be familiar with the benefits of virtualisation within their testing environments already. Bracknell Forest Borough Council’s experience is that having realised benefits in a non-production environment, it has gone on to build a pervasive virtualised IT strategy.
    
“The effect VMware has had on our IT infrastructure and the ability of our department to deliver services to the organisation has been tremendous,” said Richard Dawson, IT services manager at the council. “The cost of our annual server hardware refresh has been slashed dramatically and, from a management perspective, our overheads are also significantly reduced. Key tasks like provisioning new services, testing and development, and disaster recovery are so much easier and quicker in a virtual environment.”
    
Reza Malekzadeh, VMware EMEA director of product marketing and alliances, takes up the greening government ICT cause, pointing out that for some organisations, becoming more energy efficient, and therefore ‘greener’ is simply one of the fringe benefits of implementing virtualisation.
    
“But, as the already significant momentum behind ‘Green Computing’ begins to grow, more and more organisations will start to see this as one of the primary drivers behind deploying virtualisation,” he said. “Balancing ecology with economy through using virtualisation will provide organisations with significant savings over the longer term.”
    
As if ambitious targets are not ‘carrot’ enough, Gee warned there is the prospect that, if organisations do not start voluntarily reducing their emissions, they may well be forced to by government’s regulatory ‘stick’. The IT resources that every organisation relies on are responsible for about two per cent of all global CO2 emissions, according to analyst firm Gartner, or the same level as the airline industry, which has come under increasing regulatory pressure from an environmental point of view.
    
This is something Ian Exton, network manager for conservation body WWF UK is perhaps more aware of from a core business perspective than others. “After experiencing the benefits [of virtualisation] in our UK office, my IT team has been urging all of our other offices to go virtual,” he said. “Our aim is for the entire global operation of WWF to run on VMware and dramatically reduce our carbon footprint through virtualisation.”
    
Like most VMware users, Exton was not able to realise the wide-ranging benefits of virtualisation technology straight away. These may include infrastructure consolidation; increasing systems and application availability; improving and reducing complexity of disaster recovery; speeding up application deployment; and reducing management overheads, including power and cooling requirements. But all take time and strategic planning to realise.

Embarking on a journey
Some organisations start their virtualisation journey in their development team – attracted by the ability to quickly provision systems for testing and development, provide cost-effective business continuity and disaster recovery, and rationalise data centre costs, lifecycles or management. But green initiatives will need to be viewed holistically and made part of a wider view of updating the IT infrastructure. This is perhaps more so in the public sector because, with such a wide range of strategic advantages on offer, it will pay to get a head start in responding to the government’s green IT agenda by evaluating the value of products from the likes of VMware sooner rather than later.
    
Returning to VMware’s Lewis Gee, he argues that balancing ecology with economy through the use of virtualisation will provide government organisations with significant savings over the longer term. “Today, being green is not just a matter of being eco-friendly but is simply best practice and gives management teams who stay ahead in virtualisation, a real and sustained competitive edge,” he concluded.

Case Study: University tackles data centre efficiency
Sheffield Hallam University has reduced its data centre footprint and improved the delivery of IT services, achieving £350,000 in cost savings to date.
    
As one of the UK’s most innovative and progressive universities with more than 28,000 students, over 5,000 staff and a turnover of around £150 million, the university required a number of new IT services to support its user community. This led to the number of servers within the center doubling within twelve months. The building’s electricity grid could not supply enough power to reliably support the required number of servers within the main data centre and physical space was also a major issue.
    
Dave Thornley, the university’s service support manager, said: “With the server farm growing towards capacity, we knew a completely new strategy was required. We decided that moving to a virtual infrastructure would be the most effective way to tackle cost management and space issues. Using VMware, we have made a huge impact on our power bills as well as leading to major savings in the deployment of new services to users.”
    
By moving to VMware virtual infrastructure, the university made significant savings on its projected power and cooling costs, as well as making existing servers within its data centre run more efficiently. The use of virtualisation has meant that the IT team is more flexible and responsive in the delivery of IT services, and virtual machine environments can be provisioned faster to users. Sheffield Hallam has also created a full business continuity and disaster recovery programme based on VMware.
    
The new virtual infrastructure is based on two HP DL580s, each with 4 CPUs and 18GB RAM and four HP DL585s, each with 4 CPUs and 32 GB RAM, on top of an EMC CX700 storage area network (SAN). This has created a heterogeneous environment, in which the university runs Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Netware 6.5, Suse Linux and iChain guest OSs. And applications running in VMware include Microsoft Terminal Server, Apache Server, Novell Networks, Altiris, Novell Clusters and specialist academic applications.
    
Using VMware Infrastructure 3 Enterprise - comprising VMware ESX, VirtualCenter and VMotion components - Sheffield Hallam has already virtualised over half of its entire server estate. The power required to run 170 physical machines has been estimated at 686,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, whereas the virtual Sheffield Hallam’s 170 virtual machines run at only 60,500 kWh. This saves the university 269 tonnes of CO2 emissions and £43,000 on power bills each year alone.

Case Study: Hull College builds virtualisation benefits
Hull College, one of the largest colleges in the north of England with around 1,500 staff and around 35,000 student registrations each year, needed to deal with space, power and cooling issues and simplify provisioning and management.
    
With a rapidly expanding portfolio of over 250 applications, Hull College was beginning to face serious problems caused by its growing server estate, while management of the overall infrastructure was becoming particularly difficult. Further expansion of the college’s IT resources was not possible, so multiple applications were being run in the same server environment. This made maintenance work a massive headache for the IT team and greatly increased the effects of any server downtime.
    
Hull deployed a VMware Infrastructure Enterprise environment, featuring VMware ESX Server with Virtual Machine File System (VMFS) on 12 single-core, quad-CPU HP DL585s; VMware VirtualCenter 2; VMware Virtual Symmetric Multiprocessing (SMP); VMware VMotion; VMware Distributed Resource Scheduling (DRS); and VMware High Availability (HA) components with two NetApp fabric attached storage (FAS) 3020C SANs.
    
Jody Popplewell, Hull College senior network administrator, said: “VMware Infrastructure 3 has proven to be the answer to our problems. Being able to treat our virtual infrastructure as a centrally-managed pool of resources has allowed us to be more efficient, flexible and streamlined in the way we deliver services to staff and students.”
    
The college is now running 99 per cent of its applications, including Active Directory, payroll systems, Citrix PS4.5 Farm, Identity Manager, Microsoft.

ISA Array, Novell Netware Clusters 6.5 and Novell ZenWorks, on VMware Infrastructure and takes a ‘virtual-first’ approach to deployment. It has achieved a server consolidation ratio of 12:1 and reduced its power and cooling consumption by over 50 per cent, which has in turn cut its CO2 emissions by over 1,500 tonnes per year.
    
Using VMware HA and VMotion, the college is also able to ensure the availability of applications and eradicate downtime caused by maintenance work. Using a virtual backup appliance, it takes live backups of running servers and replicates these to a secondary site for disaster recovery purposes. Hull College has also started to look at virtualising its desktops environment and has downloaded a Virtual Appliance running Leostream’s desktop connection broker software to help with this project.
    
“VMware has provided us with a really flexible and robust infrastructure,” added Popplewell. “We can now deploy new applications in minutes rather than days and routine management is so much simpler. Virtualisation has freed up so much of our time that we have been able to start working on new initiatives that we would never previously have been able to consider.”

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