Tips to reduce the environmental impact of data storage

Data storage technology can harm the environment. Choose efficient storage strategies and green-friendly cloud providers to help reduce the environmental impact of data storage.

As many IT professionals go about their daily work, they may not consider the environmental impact of data storage, and the systems and technology they use.

Data storage, both on premises and in the cloud, is an area of IT that can harm the environment since storage hardware can use a large amount of energy and electricity.

But there are ways to be mindful of the environment when choosing storage strategies, hardware and vendors.

Storage hardware, and its maintenance, uses large amounts of energy

Storing data in a corporate data center requires electricity to run storage devices and associated storage management systems. It also takes energy to keep the overall ambient temperature safe for equipment. Data centers use lots of power to run servers, switches, lighting, HVAC equipment, air handling equipment, emergency lighting and physical security systems.

Unused data center floor space still consumes power. Although data centers themselves do not generate greenhouse gases or other pollutants, power suppliers and electric utilities often send pollutants into the atmosphere.

Be mindful of cloud providers and their commitment to green storage

Cloud storage providers are often an important additional source of IT infrastructure for organizations of all sizes. Cloud vendors usually have geographically dispersed data centers to handle customer storage requirements. These data centers consume a lot of energy but they are popular because they are convenient and economical. These factors usually outweigh any environmental considerations.

Cloud storage involves several steps before data arrives at its storage location. Data is first sent to the cloud vendor, which then routes data to one or more data centers for storage. Sending data to the vendor requires energy to power routers and switches, or power to access the internet. Power is then needed within one or more data centers, which often cover acres of land. Even more power is needed to get data to its storage location.

Cloud storage is convenient because it requires no additional floor space for an organization, is flexible and scalable to fit user needs, and provides important business continuity and technology disaster recovery benefits. But cloud storage consumes a lot of energy.

In comparison, a corporate data center often transmits data locally, perhaps over a SAN, to a storage device in the same building. No internet access is needed, and multiple data centers are not in the mix. A single corporate data center that can store data -- versus dozens or hundreds of cloud vendor data centers -- has less of an effect on the environment.

Strategies to make data storage more environmentally friendly

Adding local data storage equipment, such as servers, storage devices and storage applications, to a corporate data center may be a part of an organization's overall data storage strategy. While this approach may use more electricity, and the HVAC system may need to work harder, the overall use of power -- an additional damage to the environment -- will probably be minimal.

If a storage strategy includes a cloud storage vendor, IT management should review any environmental studies on the vendor. Management should also ask what the cloud storage vendor is doing to reduce its impact on the environment.

Renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydropower, should be used whenever possible. This is important whether you are a single corporate data center or using a cloud vendor with dozens of data centers.

energy-efficient storage

Eliminate unused dark data. But keep data that you may need for business, compliance or political reasons even if it has gone unused for some time.

Organizations can also use deduplication software to eliminate duplicate copies of files, databases and other items.

Green data storage methods and hardware

Traditional HDDs require energy to spin the disk and move the arm back and forth across the drive surface. HDDs also generate heat that must be handled by HVAC equipment, which also requires power. Here are some examples of more energy-efficient storage options.

  1. Tape storage is considered a popular type of green storage as the tape itself generates no heat; however, the tape drive and associated hardware generate heat and use power.
  2. Multiple virtualized servers should be stored on a single server, reducing the need for additional server hardware.
  3. SSDs have no moving parts and are considered not only energy efficient, but often more powerful than HDDs.
  4. Implement a massive array of idle disks, an energy-efficient technique in which an array of disk drives can switch into a low-power mode when they are not being used.

How to get started with green data storage

  • Examine the energy requirements of all data center equipment, and look for opportunities to increase energy efficiency by analyzing metrics such as watts used per gigabyte of storage.
  • Identify storage devices that are not in use. Shut them down, but keep them available in case they are needed in the future.
  • Study the percentage of data stored on premises versus on cloud storage; it may be possible to move some items back on premises and reduce your cloud storage needs.
  • Compare the energy requirements of different servers to see if you can replace existing servers with more energy-efficient units.
  • Deploy alternate sources of energy to reduce your organization's dependency on fossil-fueled power systems.
  • Identify and delete dark data.
  • Examine the organization's commitment to environmental health.

In summary, the following suggested actions can help users change existing data storage environments to more environmentally friendly options.

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