Friday, August 13, 2010

Consolidating Data Centres Like Compacting Garbage

Greetings from Data Centre Strategics in Sydney, where I just talked on Green ICT. I was using the same notes as for my talk yesterday. But I got a little tired of hearing talks about the value of consolidating data centres and virtualising servers. So I strayed from my prepared talk and described consolidation of data centres and server vitalisation as being like using a garbage compactor.

If you have a large volume of garbage, you can use a compactor to make it smaller, but you still have the same amount of garbage, just in a smaller space. The material you have has not improved in value, it is still garbage. In a similar way server consolidation results in the same software and data running on a more compact computer system. Most of the software and data on the systems, in my experience, is garbage.

An organisation can be running dozens or hundreds of instances of web servers, mail servers, database applications and other software, when they really just need a few. Similarly most of the data in the systems is duplicated and in inefficient formats. As a result, perhaps 99% of the hardware capacity is wasted dealing with unnecessary software and data.g

The way to deal with garbage is to is sift it, retaining the small amount of valuable material and disposing of the rest. In a similar way IT people need to sift through the applications and data in their systems, to retain the small amount of value and disposing of the rest.

As an example, I pointed out that the Learning Management System used for my Green ICT course is outsourced to specialist companies. Rather than have the software run on a computer at the ANU which is running assorted other software, it is on a system dedicated to running this LMS and related software. This then allows the hardware and operating system, to be tuned to this application. Also the use of the LMS removes the need for many other specialised applications. The LMS needs a database server and a web server, but that is about all.

Similarly the course content has been carefully tuned to be efficient. I avoid using inefficient PDF documents, instead using HTML. This results in much smaller files (about one tenth the size). The LMS helps with this as it will format the web pages for printing, without the need to turn the content into PDF.

As a byproduct of this web design, the content can be displayed on smart phones and tablet computers as well as ordinary desktop computers. Along with other optimisations this results in a course which takes about 1% of the resources which would be typically required. This saves the university some money, but more importantly benefits the students, who can access the course from a remote location over a slow Internet link.

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