9 Ways to Make Your Network Greener

We previously covered the topic of how to ramp up green efforts at a business, for four reasons – better conservation of resources (paper and other office supplies), reduced power bills, branding the business as concerned about the environment (both the customers and employees), and… what’s the other thing? Oh yeah, saving the earth.

Let’s talk specifics about how to make a network infrastructure more environmentally sustainable. There are a number of angles to take with this. Generally speaking, making a network greener can make you feel better to go to work and participate in your company, because it’s no longer just about profitability but about making responsible decisions as citizens of the world.

Neat idea: Make sure that all your on-site equipment and that of any vendors and power companies you work with is constructed entirely out of hemp.

1.    Out with the Old

Computers and servers gradually are becoming more energy efficient. Cisco, for instance, claims their devices become as much as 20% more efficient every three years. Obviously you can’t constantly be replacing things, but consider energy efficiency as a factor when determining how often to make replacements.

Neat idea: Biomedical technology has created human hands that are more energy-efficient than the organic one that is currently attached to your arm. Nothing says, “I care about this green initiative,” like getting a new hand, especially one that only has three fingers.

2.    Energy Star Compliance

All hardware you use can comply with Energy Star guidelines. Energy Star is a program by the EPA that rewards technologies and equipment that use less energy. Usage of compliant equipment may also make you eligible for grants and IRS credits.

Note: An example of a human Energy Star is someone who eats a whole pizza and then sits on the couch for four hours, carefully conserving the energy he has acquired.

3.    Routing Power Consumption

Network suppliers such as Cisco provide data about energy consumption throughout the network in a management control panel. This allows the network administrators to monitor energy usage and potentially consolidate devices. If you want to use this model, ensure that all routers and gateways are functioning properly throughout the network to allow the system to gauge and transmit energy usage information correctly.

Note: This is probably a good time to unplug your cryogenic chamber from your business’s network. Not only will it make you more energy efficient, but people will start asking questions.

4.    Trash that Data

Data sprawl can be a major problem on a network. It causes congestion and makes it difficult for the network to operate efficiently. Here are several things you can do with data:

  • Compress it.
  • Trash data you don’t need.
  • Trash multiple instances of the same files.

Neat idea: This also applies to real life. Did you know that your spouse’s collection of rare literature is just a bunch of useless data congesting the network that is your home?

5.    Virtualization

Server virtualization allows multiple virtual servers to exist on one physical server. Examples of open source software that allows this functionality are OpenVPN (container-based virtualization) and Xen (paravirtualization). Virtualization essentially allows you to consolidate servers – it’s a technique that is designed for increased efficiency, both in terms of management and in terms of the amount of power consumed.

Use of virtualization is extremely important regarding energy efficiency. Servers on average are in use only 15% of the time that they are on. Hardware that is not in use consumes 90% of network infrastructure power.

Virtualization does not just apply to servers, though. Devices such as the Cisco Virtual Switching System can reduce your energy consumption by allowing multiple servers to plug into the same port. Virtual Connect, by HP, abstracts server blades – reducing the need for interface cards and cables.

Note: Virtualizing your cryogenic chamber will mean that you still have access to it for the nuclear apocalypse, but it won’t be taking up so much space in the data center.

6.    Consider an Outside Host

Now, Superb Internet is a hosting company – but this is unbiased. You may like the idea of having your servers in-house, but you can certainly increase energy efficiency by using an outside hosting service. Think of the sheer number of servers at a hosting company – the amount of thought that goes into making a hosting system as energy-efficient as possible and the ability to consolidate energy requirements across a large amount of servers.

Note: Although an outside host – one that is external to your company – can increase energy efficiency, make sure that the servers are actually located inside a building. A truly “outside” hosting company should be avoided.

7.    Switches – Fans & Consolidation

You may not need a fan for every switch. Consider the atmosphere in which you are installing the equipment – fans are necessary in data centers, of course, but are not always needed and suck up energy to run.

Also, can you use a larger switch? If you are using 10-Gig switches, for example, you won’t need as many. This is more energy efficient than bandwidth aggregation at the level of the network cards.

Neat idea: Why just consolidate your servers when you can also consolidate your employees? It’s much more efficient to just have 3 employees do the work of 50.

8.    Cabinets

You want a device that sits in a hot aisle/cold aisle row to utilize front-to-back rather than side-to-side airflow. Vendors want to get as much equipment on the rack as they possibly can, and they can fit more equipment with ventilation at the sides. However, air flowing out the sides can cause overheating problems to adjacent areas.

One thing you can do is use a kit which allows you to convert the ventilation so that it is flowing optimally. A couple companies that create these types of kits are Chatsworth and Panduit.

Note: Presidential cabinets also suffer from a lot of hot air. When the day comes, as we all know it will, that you are summoned to serve your country as Secretary of Agriculture, remember your conversion kit.

9.    Reducing Back-Up Equipment

How redundant is your network? Is its redundancy a little… redundant? Backup equipment uses a lot of energy and is often not needed, even if one part of the system fails.

According to Murray Sherwood of Fusion Business Solutions, if a network is robust, it is already redundant – the backup systems are in place, so the idea of backup hardware is quickly becoming obsolete.

Neat idea: Apply this to your love life as well. Explain to your spouse that you are getting rid of your backup spouse because you believe that redundancy has now been successfully built into your marriage.

Summary & Review

Okay, so there are obviously quite a few ways to make a network greener.

Keep your equipment as new as possible so that you are utilizing energy-efficient technology, and make sure your devices are Energy Star compliant. Gauge power usage via a management console, and get rid of unnecessary data. Virtualize whatever you can, and consider an outside host. Consolidate switches, and don’t overuse fans. Finally, consider the airflow in your cabinets, and minimize your usage of backup hardware.

Obviously this does not all have to happen at once – try gradually implementing what you can. Measure your results. You will be surprised how effective some of these techniques are (especially spousal consolidation).



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by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood

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