Green Storage? Meh!

Something triggered my thoughts a few days ago. A few of us got together talking about climate change and a friend asked how green was the datacenter in IT. With cloud computing booming, I would say that green computing isn’t really the hottest thing at present. That in turn, leads us to one of the most voracious energy beasts in the datacenter, storage. Where is green storage in the equation?

What is green?

Over the past decade, several storage related technologies were touted as more energy efficient. These include

  • Tape – when tapes are offline, they do not consume power and do not require cooling
  • Virtualization – Virtualization reduces the number of servers and desktops, and of course storage too
  • MAID (Massive Array of Independent Disks) – the arrays spin down the HDDs if idle for a period of time
  • SSD (Solid State Drives) – Compared to HDDs, SSDs consume much less power, and overall reduce the cooling needs
  • Data Footprint Reduction – Deduplication, compression and other technologies to reduce copies of data
  • SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) Drives – Higher areal density means less drives but limited by physics.

The largest gorilla in storage technology

HDDs still dominate the market and they are the biggest producers of heat and vibration in a storage array, along with the redundant power supplies and fans. Until and unless SSDs dominate, we have to live with the fact that storage disk drives are not green. The statistics from Statistica below forecasts that in 2021, the shipment of SSDs will surpass HDDs.

Today the areal density of HDDs have increased. With SMR (shingled magnetic recording), the areal density jumped about 25% more than the 1Tb/inch (Terabit per inch) in the CMR (conventional magnetic recording) drives. The largest SMR in the market today is 16TB from Seagate with 18TB SMR in the horizon. That capacity is going to grow significantly when EAMR (energy assisted magnetic recording) – which counts heat assisted and microwave assisted – drives enter the market next year. The areal density will grow to 1.6Tb/inch with a roadmap to 4.0Tb/inch.

The “energy assisted” part does not help in making the HDDs green. In fact, it is likely going to trigger a large leap in to higher energy consumption of the storage array or anything with several disk drives in it. Our insatiable appetite for more capacity will not negate the larger capacity of these “energy assisted” drives bring because the quantity of drives shipped will continue to grow, at least for the next 5 years or so.

Where are my MAIDs?

Somehow telling the folks that tapes and technology like MAID (massive array of independent disks) are green (use them) does not have an strong effect to the general majority of the population. Copan used to be the leader in MAID, but they went belly up almost 10 years ago. There were acquired by SGI, and in turn SGI in now part of HPE. An old article from DCIG said that “MAID is alive and well” but that is not true anymore. You can read about the article here.

Anything with tapes is bad?

For devious reasons, marketing from disk storage companies has labelled anything tape related is bad (There is even a book!). I am a proponent that tape is a great media and could outlast hard disk drives. Yet, tape is seen as dinosaur-ic, ancient and not suitable for the present day. IEEE does not think so, and even advocating tape as the future of storage.

Photo from http://www.victorprado.com/still-life

For a while, I was hoping that LTFS (Linear Tape File System) would bring the sexy back to tapes but that failed too. But tapes have their believers and the technology is still chugging along. Unfortunately, the green messaging hardly comes up when discussing about tapes.

Energy initiatives

The IT and computing industry has already recognized the impact of electrical components. The Energy Star program existed more than 25 years ago, providing specifications and ratings for computing items and also electrical appliances. On the storage front, SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) has been very forefront to drive the green storage initiatives with SNIA Emerald program.

Emerald undertakes the power usage and efficiency initiatives through testing procedures and metrics and works closely with Energy Star and its initiatives and programs. A dive into the the SNIA Emerald website led to an Excel listing on the Energy Star website but the vendors and the storage listed were old, counting models like NetApp FAS2000, Dell EMC VNX and DotHill among its peers. This distant past shows how little the storage vendors value the “green-ess” of their storage.

And I believe SNIA is working hard to get the storage vendors to partake in its Emerald initiatives. 2 months ago, SNIA reinvigorated the green message with version 4.0 of its Taxonomy.

Why are we not talking green?

Funnily I have not seen any marketing buzz hyping about Green Storage. The message does not jive with the customers and end users. In fact, it is almost invisible. Why so?

We want instant gratification; we want everything at our finger tips; we want it fast; we want to collect more and more. The need for more leads to the huge demands for cloud computing, with huge mega data centers to feed this insatiable appetite for more computing power, more capacity; more data, more insights, more copies, more redundancy and many other things.

I dig deep into the question and I started to think about the human psyche. The answer may lie in the human greed.

 

 

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About cfheoh

I am a technology blogger with 25+ years of IT experience. I write heavily on technologies related to storage networking and data management because that is my area of interest and expertise. I introduce technologies with the objectives to get readers to *know the facts*, and use that knowledge to cut through the marketing hypes, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and other fancy stuff. Only then, there will be progress. I am involved in SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and as of October 2013, I have been appointed as SNIA South Asia & SNIA Malaysia non-voting representation to SNIA Technical Council. I currently run a small system integration and consulting company focusing on storage and cloud solutions, with occasional consulting work on high performance computing (HPC).

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