There is a lot of interest in making organisations “green” nowadays. One issue is how to make the IT industry green. People are talking about buying “offsets” for CO2 production, but the concern is that some of the offset schemes are fraudulent. Of course the best thing to do is to minimise the use of dirty power as much as possible.
Of course the first thing to do is to pay for “green power” (if available) and if possible install solar PV systems on building roofs. While the roof space of a modern server room would only supply a small amount of the electricity needed (maybe less than needed to power the cooling) every little bit helps. The roof space of an office building can supply a significant portion of the electricity needs, two years ago Google started work on instralling Solar PV panels on the roof of the “Googleplex”  with the aim of supplying 30% of the building’s power needs.
For desktop machines a significant amount of power can be saved if they are turned off overnight. For typical office work the desktop machines should be idle most of the time, so if the machine is turned off outside business hours then it will use something close to 45/168 of the power that it might otherwise use. Of course this requires that the OS support hibernation (which isn’t supported well enough in Linux for me to want to use it) or that applications can be easily stopped and restarted so that the system can be booted every morning. One particular corner case is that instant-messaging systems need to be server based with an architecture that supports storing messages on the server (as Jabber does ) rather than requiring that users stay connected (as IRC does). Of course there are a variety of programs to proxy the IRC protocol and using screen on a server to maintain a persistent IRC presence is popular among technical users (for a while I used that at a client site so that I could hibernate the PowerMac I had on my desktop when I left the office).
It seems that most recent machines have BIOS support for booting at a pre-set time. This would allow the sys-admin to configure the desktop machines to boot at 8:00AM on every day that the office is open. That way most employees will arrive at work to find that their computer is already booted up and waiting for them. We have to keep in mind the fact that when comparing the minimum pay (about $13 per hour in Australia) with the typical electricity costs ($0.14 per KWh – which means that a desktop computer might use $0.14 of electricity per day) there is no chance of saving money if employee time is wasted. While companies are prepared to lose some money in the process of going green, they want to minimise that loss as much as possible.
The LessWatts.org project dedicated to saving energy on Linux systems reports that Gigabit Ethernet uses about 2W more power than 100baseT on the same adapter . It seems most likely that similar savings can be achieved from other operating systems and also from other network hardware. So I expect that using 100baseT speed would not only save about 2W at the desktop end, but it would also save about 2W at the switch in the server-room and maybe 1W in cooling as well. If you have a 1RU switch with 24 Gig-E ports then that could save 48W if the entire switch ran at 100baseT speed, compared to a modern 1RU server which might take a minimum of 200W that isn’t very significant.
The choice of server is going to be quite critical to power use, it seems that all vendors are producing machines that consume less power (if only so that they can get more servers installed without adding more air-conditioning), so some effort in assessing power use before purchase could produce some good savings. When it comes time to decommission old servers it is a good idea to measure the power use and decommission the most power hungry ones first whenever convenient. I am not running any P4 systems 24*7 but have a bunch of P3 systems running as servers, this saves me about 40W per machine.
It’s usually the case that the idle power is a significant portion of the maximum power use. In the small amount of testing I’ve done I’ve never been able to find a case where idle power was less than 50% of the maximum power – of course if I spun-down a large number of disks when idling this might not be the case. So if you can use one virtual server that’s mostly busy instead of a number of mostly idle servers then you can save significant amounts of power. Before I started using Xen I had quite a number of test and development machines and often left some running idle for weeks (if I was interrupted in the middle of a debugging session it might take some time to get back to it). Now if one of my Xen DomU’s doesn’t get used for a few weeks it uses little electricity that wouldn’t otherwise be used. It is also possible to suspend Xen DomU’s to disk when they are not being used, but I haven’t tried going that far.
Xen has a reputation for preventing the use of power saving features in hardware. For a workstation this may be a problem, but for a server that is actually getting used most of the time it should not be an issue. KVM development is apparently making good progress, and KVM does not suffer from any such problems. Of course the down-side to KVM is that it requires an AMD64 (or Intel clone) system with hardware virtualisation, and such systems often aren’t the most energy efficient. A P3 system running Xen will use significantly less power than a Pentium-D running KVM – server consolidation on a P3 server really saves power!
I am unsure of the energy benefits of thin-client computing. I suspect that thin clients can save some energy as the clients take ~30W instead of ~100W so even if a server for a dozen users takes 400W there will still be a net benefit. One of my clients does a lot of thin-client work so I’ll have to measure the electricity use of their systems.
Disks take a significant amount of power. For a desktop system they can be hibernated at times (an office machine can be configured such that the disks can spin-down during a lunch break). This can save 7W per disk (the exact amount depends on the type of disk and the efficiency of the PSU – (see the Compaq SFF P3 results and the HP/Compaq Celeron 2.4GHz on my computer power use page ). Network booting of diskless workstations could save 7W for the disk (and also reduce the noise which makes the users happy) but would drive the need for Gigabit Ethernet which then wastes 4W per machine (2W at each end of the Ethernet cable).
Recently I’ve been reading about the NetApp devices . By all accounts the advanced features of the NetApp devices (which includes their algorithms for the use of NVRAM as write-back cache and the filesystem journaling which allows most writes to be full stripes of the RAID) allow them to deliver performance that is significantly greater than a basic RAID array with a typical filesystem. It seems to me that there is the possibility of using a small number of disks in a NetApp device to replace a larger number of disks that are directly connected to hosts. Therefore use of NetApp devices could save electricity.
Tele-commuting has the potential to save significant amounts of energy in employee travel. A good instant-messaging system such as Jabber could assist tele-commuters (it seems that a Jabber server is required for saving energy in a modern corporate environment).
Have I missed any ways that sys-admins can be involved in saving energy use in a corporation?
Update: Albert pointed out that SSD (Solid State Disks) can save some power. They also reduce the noise of the machine both by removing one moving part and by reducing heat (and therefore operation of the cooling fan). They are smaller than hard disks, but are large enough for an OS to boot from (some companies deliberately only use a small portion of the hard drives in desktop machines to save space on backup tapes). It’s strange that I forgot to mention this as I’m about to buy a laptop with SSD.