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Sustainable Investment Authors: Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Virtualization Magazine, Innovations Software Technology, Green Technology Journal, Sustainable Investment

Case Study

Virtualization Enables Non-Profit Earth Rangers to Green Its Data Center

Migrating toward virtualization technology and sustainability practices

Earth Rangers is focused on working with children to help protect biodiversity. Our long-term goal is to partner with them to protect enough natural habitats to ensure the lasting survival of all species in Canada, where we are based. We take our mission to "Bring Back the Wild" seriously and run our organization with conservation and "green" values in mind. Many might think that building a technologically advanced data center defies these values; however, we set out to prove that a data center could be both fully functional and energy efficient. Virtualization technology, we believed, would be the key to success, and we were right. In going green, we also saved a lot of green - money, that is.

A short history of the data center and a vision for its future
Data centers have always been power hungry and have become even more so in recent years. Over the last decade, as applications have grown more sophisticated and servers more powerful, digital data has grown at an exponential rate and the deployment of storage systems has proliferated. Add to this the wired and wireless networks connecting millions of users to these systems, and the stage is set for a microcosm of the world's energy crisis in every data center. Fortunately, innovation in servers, storage and networking technology - especially server and storage virtualization - have made possible an entirely new way of designing energy-efficient data centers while accommodating the need for scaling performance and capacity.  Until vendors come up with solar-powered solutions, today's virtualized storage options are an organization's best bet for building green data centers.

Before we deployed anything, I researched the latest virtualization technologies and then implemented the technology from the ground up in the new data center at the Earth Rangers Centre (ERC), a building recognized in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) with a Gold designation. The 60,000-square-foot ERC, located in Woodbridge, Ontario, currently uses 84 percent less energy than an average building of the same size. The building optimizes natural sunlight and maximizes clean-air ventilation, while integrated systems recycle wastewater, provide radiant heating and cooling, and capture solar energy. Given these sustainable technologies, we certainly did not want to move an inefficient data center into our LEED-certified building. The challenge was to build a data center that would contribute to the building's overall energy efficiency without sacrificing the leading-edge performance our growing organization requires. We needed to house it in a small, 100-square-foot space, and we wanted it to be a showcase of the latest in green IT technology.

Technology and environmental protection: a better fit than one might expect
As an environmental education and conservation organization, Earth Rangers leads by example to demonstrate to the community and other organizations how to use energy-efficient products. All employees, regardless of their department, understand this goal, and it was one we had to reach in IT, as well. The data center was an important, albeit challenging, place upon which to focus.

The first thing I settled on was a virtual server infrastructure, which eliminated 90 percent of the hardware a conventional server deployment would require; and this became the central decision that drove much of the architecture of the data center. Next, I chose the most power-efficient RAM-intensive blade servers I could find to host my virtual servers. I ended up with three physical blade servers running 62 virtual servers - with room for more as our needs grow.

The virtual server infrastructure, in turn, drove my storage and data protection decisions. For storage, I chose one of the new generation of virtualized storage arrays - one with a full 10 terabytes of raw storage capacity - that could serve up virtual disks of any size as needed for each of my virtual servers. There is plenty of head room on this array; when I need more capacity, all I need to do is add another array and it will expand the virtual pool of available storage - mirroring the flexibility of my virtual servers.

Not just environmentally friendly, but cost-efficient
A comparable deployment using conventional servers and storage would require a data center 10 times this size. By creating a virtualized environment on the energy-efficient blades, we have saved nearly 85 percent of the energy costs compared with a non-virtualized environment. This is a compelling result for any business, not just one with an environmental mission.

For data protection, I deployed a disk-based backup system from FalconStor Software that eliminates the need for tape-based backup and allows me to restore lost or corrupted files on a granular level in minutes. There is an indirect positive impact on the environment with this system, since we are no longer burning fossil fuels to truck copies of our data on tape to a remote location for safekeeping. We are currently using a continuous data protection solution and site-to-site disaster recovery.

We completed the initial construction of the data center in December 2008. Since then, as the data center has grown, energy consumption has only doubled even though performance has increased more than tenfold. Since the data center is embedded in an extraordinarily energy efficient building, the electricity it consumes for computing (nearly 100 kWh per day) is offset by the energy generated from the ERC's 88 kW photovoltaic arrays, while the heat generated by the IT equipment will be used to warm the building and offset our heating costs in the near future. To complete the efficient use of electricity, we deployed an Ethernet routing switch enabled with power over Ethernet technology to facilitate the transfer of electrical power and data across the infrastructure.

Virtualization has not only saved us space and energy in the data center, but with the use of virtual desktop technology and thin clients, we have reduced the need for expensive, energy-intensive desktops. Now the majority of storage and processing power is centrally located in and distributed from the data center. Not only does this save energy, but it also facilitates the distribution of new software and upgrades to all staff from a central location.

The virtualized architecture of our data center saves more than 111,000 kilowatt hours per year or the equivalent of more than 26 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. In addition to the efficiency of the data center itself, a virtual private network (VPN) allows more than half of Earth Rangers' staff of 40 to work from home, reducing pollution caused by driving to work every day; it is estimated that our VPN capabilities can help eliminate more than 23 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

A green data center to complement a green organization
Everything that Earth Rangers deployed in its data center is proven green technology that any organization can put to good use today. The ERC data center is living proof that the massive energy-hogging data centers of the past are not necessary for any business to have the performance and capacity it requires. The path toward energy efficiency in the data center is worth investigating. Whether your mission is to save money, save energy, or both, migrating toward virtualization technology and sustainability practices can help you reach your goals.

For more information about Earth Rangers and the technologies we used in the data center, check out the following resources:

More Stories By Rob DiStefano

Rob DiStefano is IT systems manager for Earth Rangers, an innovative and charitable organization with a mission to inspire kids to help Bring Back the Wild. Its goal is to empower today’s children to become a determined part of the solution to the current biodiversity crisis. Rob is using FalconStor Software’s Continuous Data Protector appliance as part of his technology infrastructure to build the Earth Rangers Centre’s energy-efficient data center.

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