Data Virtualization and Greener Data Centers

On the Saturday before the Oracle OpenWorld 2014 conference started, I had the added bonus of finding out that the Data Center Journal had published my article on how data virtualization leads to greener data centers.  Hooray!

Unfortunately, I recently learned that Data Center Journal has gone defunct, so my posted article no longer exists.  As a result, here we go…

I recall that the January 2000 issue of National Geographic magazine had a “Letters From The Editor” column article that speculated, in jest, that the rate at which humans were saving back-issues of National Geographic magazine, would by the year 2100 result in the total accumulation of yellow magazines outweighing planet Earth.

Note:  The public archives of Nat’l Geographic magazine appear to only go back to 2005, so I can’t verify the exact issue in which this comment appeared.

Anyway, that statement resonated with me, because although I change residences every few years, it has only been recently that I hadn’t packed and carried my decades of accumulated National Geographic magazines with me.  Now that I’m free of them, I have no idea why I schlepped them with me for so long.  Worse, it cost real money to do so;  movers charge by weight. One mover commented that he was certain that two-thirds of the weight of all my possessions were books and National Geographic magazines, as he handed me an $8,000 bill for the move.

I now collect books on Kindle.  And I dropped off my boxes of yellow Nat’l Geographic magazines at the Goodwill store, in the middle of a dark and shameful night, almost a decade ago.  I don’t know if it was a particularly “green” decision, but I know that my recent moves have been the easiest since I was an undergraduate.

Likewise in data centers.  If we keep doing business in data centers as we have for the past 30 years, quite soon the planet would tilt off it’s axis due to the sheer weight of data storage hardware.

The advent of virtual machines has had a profound impact on provisioning environments.  Instead of unpacking, racking, wiring, powering, and cooling physical servers, data centers can now create virtual machines by the hundreds by pointing and clicking.  All of these new virtual machines share the previously under-utilized CPU and RAM resources of physical servers, making the ROI on CPU and RAM resources sky high.

So, virtual machine technology has allowed data centers to provision several million virtual servers without having to power and cool several millions of physical servers.  They use the existing physical servers far more efficiently.  That is “green”.

Not so with disk storage.

Each virtual machine still requires a full image of storage.  So, as several million virtual servers have been spun up, each has required a full complement of disk storage, thus driving the already overheated computer storage industry into supernova.

I’ve said it before and say it again:  if you have money to invest, do so in either energy or data storage.  We’re never going to use less of either.

So how does Delphix and data virtualization fit in?

Delphix virtualizes data, just as VMware and their competitors virtualize servers.  Delphix data virtualization makes more efficient use of existing storage, and slows the rate of growth of storage in data centers.

That is “green”.

For many, the time has arrived where server virtualization has completely taken over, even for those situations where sharing CPU and RAM resources are not desired.  For high-impact production environments, it is very common to have virtual machines one-for-one with physical machines.  Having production application encapsulated in a virtual machine makes it easier and simpler to migrate to other physical servers, whether to address resource shortfalls or to deal with physical server failure.

In these situations, data virtualization does not yield benefit, green or otherwise.

But in the scenario where a couple, or dozens, or even hundreds or thousands of virtual machines are provisioned to a cluster of physical servers, we have an environmentally unsustainable model, in every sense of the phrase.

An analogy for server virtualization without data virtualization in this latter scenario is an advance in technology to enable us to build automobiles entirely from cheap renewable resources, such as cellulose.  Hey terrific, instead of building cars from expensively mined resources such as metals and exhaustible resources such as plastic, let’s imagine a leap in technology where we could employ cellulose waste from food production, mainly biomass left over from farming.

Perhaps we would have found a way to get rid of all those old back issues of National Geographic?

We could then produce these cars more cheaply and with less environmental impact, using what is essentially mulch, for a fraction of the cost of currently manufactured automobiles.

It would be the golden age of personal transportation.  Everyone on the planet could afford one.

But what if these new automobiles still used internal combustion engines, consuming fossil fuels, at the same level of efficiency as today, about 20-40 miles per gallon?  Even if they were more efficient, upwards of 100 miles per gallon;  would that yield a net benefit to the environment?

Of course not.  The proliferation of these inexpensive, environmentally friendly automobiles would be an utter disaster environmentally, as the consumption of fossil fuels skyrocketed.

The oil companies would be quite happy, wouldn’t they?

That is server virtualization without data virtualization.

Except that it is the storage companies in the place of the oil companies in our analogy.

Server virtualization is a huge advance, but data virtualization is needed to fully deliver on the promise of the solution.