Tips for reducing the environmental impact of data storage

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As many IT professionals go about their day-to-day work, they may ignore the environmental impact of storing data, as well as the systems and technologies they use.

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

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

Storage equipment and its maintenance consume 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 the equipment. Data centers use a lot of energy 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, electricity providers and electric utilities often send pollutants into the atmosphere.

Consider 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 providers typically have data centers located around the world to handle customers’ storage needs. Large amounts of energy are required to run these data centers, but many organizations use them due to the convenience and cost savings offered by technology. These factors generally outweigh environmental considerations.

Storage in the cloud involves several steps before the data arrives at its storage location. The data is first sent to the cloud provider, which then routes the data to one or more data centers for storage. Sending data to the provider requires energy to power routers and switches, or to access the Internet. Power is then needed in one or more data centers, which often cover hectares of land. Even more power is needed to get the data to where it is stored.

Cloud storage is convenient because it does not require additional floor space for an organization, is flexible and scalable to adapt to user needs, and offers significant business continuity and technology disaster recovery benefits. . However, it can be more damaging to the environment due to its use of energy.

In comparison, a corporate data center often transmits data locally, perhaps through a SAN, to a storage device in the same building. No Internet access is required and multiple data centers are not affected. A single enterprise datacenter capable of storing data, compared to dozens or hundreds of cloud provider datacenters, has less impact 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 can be 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 energy use – further damage to the environment – will likely be minimal.

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

Renewable energies, such as solar, wind or hydro power, should be used whenever possible. This is important whether you are a single corporate data center or use a cloud provider with dozens of data centers.

Identify and eliminate dark data that is no longer needed, takes up storage space and wastes energy. But data needed for business, compliance, or political reasons should be retained even if the organization has not used it for some time.

Businesses can also use deduplication software to eliminate duplicate files, databases, and other items.

Ecological data storage methods and materials

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

  1. Tape storage is considered a popular type of green storage because the tape itself does not generate any heat; however, the tape drive and associated hardware generate heat and consume power.
  2. Multiple virtualized servers must be stored on a single server, reducing the need for additional server hardware.
  3. SSDs have no moving parts and are considered not only to be energy efficient, but often more powerful than hard drives.
  4. Implement a massive set of idle disks, a power-efficient technique in which a set of disk drives can switch to low-power mode when not in use.

How to get started with green data storage

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

  • Examine the energy needs 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. Close them, but keep them available in case they are needed in the future.
  • Study the percentage of data stored on premise versus cloud storage; it may be possible to move some items to the premises and reduce your cloud storage needs.
  • Compare the energy needs of different servers to see if you can replace existing servers with more energy efficient units.
  • Deploy other energy sources to reduce your organization’s dependence on fossil fuel power systems.
  • Identify and remove dark data.
  • Examine the organization’s commitment to environmental health.
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