How to green your data centres and save money

How to green your data centres and save money

How SAP is 'greening' its data centres to cut costs

Björn Goerke, SAP global CIO, wearing his Jawbone wrist band

Björn Goerke, SAP global CIO, wearing his Jawbone wrist band

SAP has set itself a goal this year to run its 16 data centres around the world on 100 per cent renewable energy, including its new Sydney data centre that opened this week.

CIO Australia speaks with SAP’s global CIO, Björn Goerke, about the different tools and techniques he is using to green the cloud provider’s data centres worldwide and drive down power costs.

Half of our SAP’s energy consumption comes from its data centres, says Goerke, with 11,000 physical servers worldwide supporting its internal IT, production and software development units.

“We are also expanding into Latin America, we’re building our presence in Asia Pacific beyond Australia, and we’re going into Russia and India,” says Goerke.

By 2020, SAP wants to reach the same level of carbon footprint it had in 2000 (336 kilo tonnes). SAP’s Integrated Report 2013 showed that absolute carbon emissions increased by 12 per cent during 2012 to 2013, with greenhouse gas emissions increasing from 30 grams CO2 per euro of total revenue to 32.4 grams CO2 per euro. However, overall it has reached 43 per cent of its goal to go back to a carbon footprint of 336 kilo tonnes, Goerke says.

Since the start of 2008, SAP’s combined energy efficiency initiatives have contributed to saving of about A$386 million. A substantial piece of that figure is attributed to greening its data centres and making them more efficient.

“In our German data centre alone, we have reduced our power consumption by 50 per cent,” says Goerke.

Besides purchasing renewable energy certificates – a subsidy mechanism for using renewable energy such as solar, wind, biomass and geo-thermal – Goerke is using a number of techniques to drive efficiencies and reduce power consumption.

The first is cool aisle containment that prevents the mixing of cool and hot air so servers do not have to be re-cooled over and over.

“If you put some servers in a large room and try to cool them down, then you are cooling a much more volume of air than is necessary. So you are containing the cold air into a certain space around the servers, and you make the space you need to cool down as small as possible,” says Goerke.

Read: Equinix using cold aisle containment for cooling

The positioning of the racks and servers, as well as making them as dense as possible also helps make the cooling process more efficient, Goerke says.

“There’s a standard way to put them in. What we figured out is if we rack these systems in the opposite way, we can get a much better cooling effect. So the positioning of the servers had an impact on cooling.

“It’s the density of the servers in the racks themselves, too. Depending on generation of hardware you use and what vendors you work with, there are different densities you can get in terms of blades or server cartridges that you put into the racks. We are also getting those down in size so that you can put more cartridges in and reduce the volume that you need to cool down,” he says.

Maximising the performance of systems through parallel processing is another way to drive efficiencies, Goerke says. SAP is using Intel’s latest generation processor – Ivy Bridge – to distribute more data onto cores that process it simultaneously, making it “eight times faster” than with older central processing units (CPUs).

“From a performance perspective, the new CPU is much more energy efficient and more powerful than the previous generation," he says.

“But there are certain workloads that cannot be done in parallel because it is dependent on something else. So the problem is that some tasks have to be done in serial if you’ve got an algorithm or calculation or something.

“The good thing with in-memory platform is the way we have stored data in there and the way we have structured it so you can really divide the workload across many CPUs and parallels.

“For example, I could have 200 billion of data entries I could scan in a single second. So there’s enormous computing power because you can split up the set of data you look at, distribute it across the cores, and get the result back together again.”

One of the most important ways to reduce energy consumption, increase efficiencies and drive down costs is to monitor the energy usage of your infrastructure, Goerke says.

“We have only a single data centre we’ve built where only the concrete, the bunker is owned by us and that’s the one we have at our headquarters in Germany. What we put in is our infrastructure, and… we connect that infrastructure to our central management hub where we monitor server availability, heat maps to give a sense of how the servers are utilised and the utilisation level, etc.”

Read: Cloud has the potential to save the world about 9.1 gigatonnes of CO2 and US$1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel costs by 2020, according to GeSI

SAP uses a range of analytical capabilities that collect the CPU and memory utilisation of the servers so it can save on energy during idle time and power up when there’s a sudden demand.

“Take time recording, for example. People do time recording at companies usually Friday afternoon before they leave work for the weekend. So everybody logs on to the same server at a very short point in time.

“So what we do is we measure in the system how much load is on the system, and we have software that then allows you to automatically bring new computing power in, spinning off new servers, where we can then start additional instances of our software and distribute the load to those new instances.

“We have some smart algorithms that tell us ‘now is the time to spin up a new system’ so we can deal with the load. And if the load goes down after a while, we can actually stop that instance and go back to a lower workload as the system is idling Saturday and Sunday because nobody is logging on.

“That’s how we make sure we get the best utilisation out of the hardware that’s sitting there creating heat and consuming energy.”

SAP HANA data centre in Sydney

With the new Australian Privacy Principles that went into effect last month, Goerke says data sovereignty concerns from Australian customers is what lead SAP to establish a local data centre.

The new Australian Privacy Principles state that Australian organisations cannot simply point the finger at offshore cloud providers if a breach were to occur, as they need to make sure their offshore provider has taken “reasonable steps” to comply with the local laws.

Goerke says he takes several measures to ensure the safety of the data in SAP’s data centres. Some of these include encrypting data at rest as well as during transit, having customers do specific audits of their solutions, getting regular audits from external parties to get certified in accordance with national standards, creating several layers of defence inside the data centre, regularly training security staff, and monitoring 24x7 via security centres worldwide.

“SAP also has a data privacy officer who covers not only our internal data privacy aspects but also for our solutions portfolio,” he says. “And when we work with partners or suppliers, we make sure the corresponding requirements are fulfilled by the partner.”

Goerke is also planning a second data centre in Australia for disaster recovery.

BYOD and wearables

SAP has provided about 75,000 devices to staff worldwide, with another 6,000 being brought into the workplace by employees. Of the 6,000, 289 devices are from Australian and New Zealand employees, with a staff base of about 900.

“Most of it is iOS, but people do have a choice; we have an internal catalogue where people can choose a device,” Goerke says, “That could be iOS, Samsung Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry – even though BlackBerry is somewhat on the decline.

“We use our own mobile device management software Afaria for all the devices, and we are able to wipe the devices if an employer chooses to leave the company or loses the device.”

Goerke is also a wearable tech fan, being a big user of the Jawbone fitness band. He says it’s like a “Tamagotchi thing for adults”.

“It changes behaviour, it changed my behaviour. Some days I’m just sitting in meetings and not walking a lot. When I check my device and realise I’ve only done half of the steps I should have done I go for a walk just to make sure I meet the goal to get the ‘well done’. You link up with friends and family and it becomes a competition. So it’s like gamification,” he says.

“We have an interesting project going on internally at SAP with our internal health organisation. We are thinking about how employees work in a healthy work environment, how they can adjust their chairs and desks to stand and not only sit, etc. And one of the things we are looking at is providing people with those [health] bands.”

Read: Where is wearable technology heading in 2014?

He says encouraging employees to better their health through wearable health bands would not only benefit the employer but also the company as better well-being can be linked to better work productivity.

“I was discussing with one CIO in South Africa a few weeks ago who is in the mining industry, and he says he might look into using wearables for people working underground in mines to know what’s their health condition, how hot is it in there, the worker’s body temperature, their heart rate, and so on to see if they have a health problem.

“The problem being that the devices are not yet ready. In the mineshaft it’s difficult to get wireless connectivity. So technology wise, it is still very, very early.”

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