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'Kill the Comatose Servers,' Says IT Guru Ken Brill

Kenneth Brill, technology industry icon and executive director of the Uptime Institute, offers his secrets to an efficient data center in this exclusive Q&A.

Ken BrillTechnology guru Kenneth Brill has a wide sphere of influence in the IT community. In addition to being executive director of the Sante Fe-based Uptime Institute, which provides research and reports on enterprise computing, he writes regularly about data center issues for Forbes.com and CIO. WS&T spoke with Brill recently about his latest work on IT efficiency and what efforts produce the biggest improvements. His insights are must-reading for anyone who oversees a data center or general IT.

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WS&T: The debate over the value of cloud computing has been intensifying lately -- for instance, the McKinsey Group recently said that current cloud computing services are not cost-effective for larger enterprises, poiting out that the technology creates unrealizable expectations and contending that CIOs should focus on the immediate benefits of virtualizing server storage, network operations and other critical building blocks. What is your position on cloud computing?

Brill: The feeling I have is that it's exciting. But efficiency is not glamorous; chasing new things is glamorous. [Right now] we as a country need to be more focused on being effective and efficient, rather than on cloud computing. We need to get back to some older values. The problem is that for a CIO, [achieving] efficiency is tough stuff.

WS&T: Technology consultant Neal Nelson recently told WS&T that the best way to reduce power draw in a data center is to turn off the servers.

Brill: Exactly. Turn them off. We estimate that 15 to 30 percent of servers could be turned off. But that's not "cool" -- it's like telling teenagers who are leaving for the weekend to turn off the lights.

WS&T: Why don't companies do that? Are they just not aware of the benefits?

Brill: If you look at history, we decided at some point that people were more expensive than servers, so we began getting rid of the people in data centers. But when we did that, we didn't look at the total cost of ownership. One of the recommendations in our report, "Revolutionizing Data Center Efficiency," is that facilities and IT need to be merged. The reason for that is that the facility cost per server is between $8,000 and $15,000 per server. So IT spends $1,500 to buy a server and they commit $8,000 to $15,000 in facilities costs.

WS&T: That sounds pretty high.

Brill: It is.

WS&T: Is that just for the power, lighting and cooling?

Brill: That's the cap ex investment, including the real estate cost of adding servers.

WS&T: Is that also true for blades?

Brill: It's worse.

WS&T: So by having facilities and IT work together, what do you get?

Brill: One thing you see is, the electrical cost for a server is between $400 and $500 a year; if you were to hire an intern for the summer, all they'd have to do is find two servers a week to turn off and you'd come out ahead just by reducing electricity costs.

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