by Lewis Curtis
Summary: As the commitment to reduce environmental impact and power consumption are becoming increasingly important objectives for organizations, architecture leaders are now proactively considering environmental resource constraints along with more traditional IT business goals.
This article exams significant architectural decision points in the infrastructure and discusses discuss holistic issues for environmental sustainability.
Rather than viewing the environmentally sustainable data center as a product feature checklist for a one-time win, serious IT architects are adopting a more comprehensive sustainability plan in their data center system design. While new technology from the industry continues to drive efficiency into the IT infrastructure, environmental systemic quality metrics need to be built into at every part of the IT architectural process, and an ongoing architectural commitment is required at all levels of the infrastructure, beyond a typical product procurement strategy.
For Architects: What’s Different About “Green”
New Architectural Decision Points
Commitment to a Sustainable Technology Strategy
Focus on Business Objectives
Sustainable Intelligence: Understanding Energy Consumption and Environmental Impact
Using a Holistic Design Approach
Looking at the Whole System
Best Practices for Sustainable Architecture Design
One cannot achieve a Sustainable Strategy with a product, it takes an Architectural commitment.
The corporate architect must realize that the impact corporations make on the environment now is engrained in doing business:
This is a vastly different landscape than for other galvanizing themes such as SOA, agile design, or Web 2.0 and SaaS. Those themes did not elicit the same degree of regulatory, legal, and advocacy. Ten years from now, those initiatives may not exist in their present incarnation, but commitments to reduce environmental impact and power consumption will continue to be important objectives for organizations.
IT professionals must shed the traditional view of the environmentally sustainable data center as a product feature checklist to gain one-time wins. While new technology from the industry will help drive efficiency into the IT infrastructure, it will not replace the necessary ongoing architectural and process commitment.
For example, a virtualization or a blade environment product decision has the potential to reduce power consumption. Yet, if there are no processes or architectural guidance to go with it, this can encourage virtual server sprawl and eventually increase power consumption at a higher rate due to additional physical servers allocated to meet the virtual sprawl needs. And of course, increasing rack power density without an aligned cooling architecture is a recipe for data center disaster.
Environmental impact and power consumption are becoming crucial architectural systemic quality metrics.
In the past, IT architects gave too little attention to security, eventually suffering the consequences. Like security, environmental sustainability design qualities are quickly becoming pervasive architectural issues for new projects.
The need to reduce power consumption is obvious. Gone are the days of measuring data centers by square foot of space. Now, data centers are increasingly sized by the watt. More efficient technologies with new capabilities are being promoted as magic cures. Yet, saving energy is a much more complex architectural problem, requiring a coordinated array of tactics, from architectural power management capacity planning techniques to optimizing operational processes and facilities design.
Continuously reducing environmental impact is more challenging. There is a consensus that serious negative environmental repercussions are the consequence of manmade pollution. From examining the atmosphere, soils and oceans: governments, partners, consumers and industry organizations want companies to have a more positive impact on the environment. The most common environmental impact measurement is labeled carbon footprint, usually measured in tCO2eq (metric tons of CO2 equivalent) based on the source of energy and amount consumed, manufacturing and logistics impact (often labeled embodied cost), as well as end-of-life impact (e-waste, environmental externalities, and so on).
While new technology from industry helps drive efficiency into the IT infrastructure, an ongoing commitment to a sustainable technology strategy is required in IT architecture and process. Environmental systemic quality metrics need to be built into every part of the IT architectural process.
Traditional IT architecture goals persist in the waste-conscious era of sustainable data center design:
To design successful IT solutions that reduce power consumption and environmental impact, IT architects must also consider the environmental impact on other systemic architectural quality metrics as a part of every design goal. This includes (but by no means limited to) name services, backup and recovery, management systems and network infrastructure.
Research on different environmentally sustainable endeavors from internal activities, customer projects, and industry experts indicates architectural leaders leverage three main themes that differentiate successful environmentally sustainable projects:
There are infrastructural architectural design approaches to start analyzing environmentally sustainable goals.
As an industry segment, data centers are one of the fastest growing energy consumers. Why?
Organizations are realizing that the source and amount of their energy consumption significantly contributes to green house gas (GHG) emissions. In response to this awareness, organizations are currently using the following equation:
Reduced energy consumption
= reduced green house gas emissions
= reduced operational costs for the data center and business
For architecture models, it means adopting fewer and more energy efficient systems while refactoring application environments to make optimal use of physical resources (doing more work with less code and systems) as well as leveraging providers that are more energy- and GHG-efficient.
A typical data center consumes energy in four basic areas:
Leaders cannot manage what they cannot measure. Therefore, an organization needs good environmental measurement solutions. They need to use environmental monitoring to measure consumption and output, and to develop actionable metrics and forecasting.
The following technology exists for measuring energy consumption and thermal output for data center elements:
An architecture that considers environmental impact should be extensible. Due to the proprietary nature of most environmental metering interfaces from separate vendors, IT architects should aggregate these communication models into extensible communication architecture. As new metering interfaces and technologies evolve, the solution can be extended as well as normalized to reduce complexity.
To design an efficient environmental metering environment, it is important to assemble a functionally decomposed environment that leverages existing services.
Proprietary energy API services. Most vendors have their own proprietary API model to interface with the metering devices. Because energy metering architectures differ with many data centers, larger organizations may have more than one proprietary interface environment. It is important to set up a reliable design standard that reaches across data centers and technologies.
Environmental consumption communication bus. Because of diverse proprietary environmental metering interface systems (as well as versioning changes issues), organizations should assemble a common communication bus to assemble the environmental monitoring solution into a common interface model for different metering and reporting systems.
Environmental consumption data aggregation zone. This is a common data collection repository designed for frequent updates. This area is the collection point for environmental data across data centers.
Configuration management database environment (CMDB). As the names suggests, CMDB environments store mostly static (or infrequently updated) system configuration information. It is important to be able to associate this information with metering systems to understand the impact of configuration decisions on environmental metrics.
GHG/environmental measurement standards. Most organizations have or are in the process of defining the algorithms for measuring GHG impact. This equation usually depends on the source and amount of energy utilized. However, environmental life cycle assessment models could expand in scope as cap and trade programs mature.
Often, this data depends on the organization’s environmental life cycle assessment to lock down the scope of impact on metering parameters. However, it is important to keep these equations loosely coupled with the existing environmental metering environment. This allows the organization to adapt as metering standards change
Custom data center data sources. In designing a common environmental metering environment, there often are unique data sources that are important for the solution. Examples include the price and source of energy for that specific data center, operational logistics data, and common data center performance data. It is usually best to keep these systems separate with some common interface standards rather than grouping them together.
Environmental impact presentation model. This is the presentation aggregation point for different user personas (Figure 1). While the architectural principles are the same, the architect can leverage many different design options to accomplish the task.
Figure 1. Designing a common environmental metering environment (Click on the picture for a larger image)
It’s easier to make environmental impact decisions at specific engineering and development granular points in the architecture. However, it becomes more difficult understand how those decisions interact and impact the IT and business ecosystem.
A holistic design means the architect sees the big picture impact as well as how all the pieces ft together productively. Figure 2 shows how a sample e-commerce architecture has an environmental impact on supporting data center services.
Figure 2. Solutions having an environmental impact on data center services
Also, granular areas in the design will sometimes conflict. For example: PUE (power usage effectiveness) metrics will encourage efficient physical data center design by measuring the total datacenter consumption compared to the amount of energy utilized for critical systems (servers, storage, communications, etc..).
This is a popular metric today and produces valuable data for IT organizations.
However, the design of this metric encourages critical systems using more energy in the datacenter, not less. In effect: Replacing systems with more efficient servers could hurt PUE scores.
PUE can be positive for measuring overall physical datacenter operations but not a great match for server efficiency models. It is important to utilize the metric that drives the right behavior for the right areas.
It is critical that infrastructure leaders have this holistic view when leading environmentally sustainable efforts.
Establishing a focused set of system stock keeping units (SKUs) for each tier and layer area will help you to enforce energy efficiency and consumption standards, as well as environmental impact standards for your organization.
For example, when considering hardware purchases, ACPI 3.0 Systems can use advanced power management capabilities from Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 to reduce energy consumption. For the server, consider reducing or eliminating redundant power supplies and acquiring the most efficient power supplies available.
Traditional modeling promotes component diagrams and physical machines between tiers. However, architects need additional information to make informed decisions about environmental optimization.
Figure 3. Systemic Qualities Incorporating Environmental Impact
Architects often elect for more redundancy to improve performance, availability, and scalability. While this can improve some specific systemic qualities, a culture of excessive redundancy can lead to problems. One of those problems is complexity. A small increase in architecture complexity can yield unintentional energy consumption results in large scale solutions. This is one reason why many large-scale environments use significantly simplified designs (it also usually decreases operational brittleness). Energy consumption pressures and environmental impact needs are other incentives for architects to minimize complexity.
To reduce the impact of key systems in the architecture, the infrastructure should be decomposed into finer grain areas for environmental focus (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Decomposing an n-tier architecture between tiers and systems service areas for focused environmental optimization
By examining each tier (Client, Presentation, Business, and Resource), the team can analyze architecturally significant decision points to identify environmentally sustainable best practices for their organization.To determine environmental impact optimization for the overall platform architecture, it is important that each tier be examined by:
Each architectural tier can be divided into fie system service areas of focus:
There are many ways to optimize a client environment to save energy and reduce environmental impact (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Energy consumption approaches on the client tier
Client physical execution environment. Acquiring an Energy Star 4.0 system which recognizes ACPI 3.0 power management capabilities from Windows Vista allows the operating system to manage power for processors (and multiple cores), attached devices, and allows advanced capabilities for hibernation and sleep. Also, administrators can use group policies to throttle back the maximum CPU load to reduce energy consumption when needed.
Operating execution environment. To leverage advanced energy efficient computer hardware, the operating environment must be capable of using the new ACPI 3.0 hardware functionality, and it must deliver advanced performance and power management capabilities for the user and administrator. The operating execution environment is the configuration and standardization of the operating system and the supporting utilities. It is crucial to leverage the most aggressive power savings capabilities possible while accomplishing computing goals of the organization. When setting up a standardized configuration, minimize the number of running system services to reduce energy consumption.
Note: Software vendors have developed various solutions that can selectively turn client systems on and off to minimize energy use.
Application services environment. To reduce the amount of resources a client must use to run a fully installed application, architect teams can leverage client application virtualization from solutions such as Microsoft’s Application Virtualization solution for client systems and remote client interface solutions from new Windows Server 2008 Terminal services. However, this takes careful planning and works in a focused set of scenarios. It is important to carefully meter the full GHG and energy consumption tradeoffs for the actual deployment.
Software environment. Power-aware WPF applications can use less power-intensive presentation experience based on the power state of the client. Also, some are aggregating application development best practices to minimize energy resource consumption on the client environment.
Typical N-Tier design is often plagued by competing and siloed budget allocations. This design creates unnecessary duplication and produces extensive energy consumption waste in the organization.
Most organizations use multiple n-tier designs with many underutilized servers. This approach consumes more energy and increases the organization’s carbon footprint.
Aggregating tier areas reduces capital and operating costs, energy consumption, and environmental impact, and it simplifies management with consistent builds across the organization.
Consolidating separate n-tier solutions often takes unique approaches for specific tier areas. In the next sections, we will investigate common approaches for each tier area.
The presentation tier represents those data center services which provide and manage a consolidated server-based user experience for users (Figure 6). The traditional example is the Web server; other examples include common portals to Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) gateways. It is in this tier that server sprawl can happen quickly as scalability demands room to grow. Today, many architects are consolidating their work into a multihosting environment (each server manages multiple Web site environments). Not only does this reduce energy consumption through consolidation, this also promotes energy efficient configuration standardization across servers (for example, limiting Web servers to only one power supply).
Figure 6. Presentation Tier Example
The business infrastructure tier is called by many names (the business, application or transaction tier). It is where critical application business rules, workflow rules, transaction management, and integration coordination take place. Consolidating multiple applications at this tier is more complex. Often, this can involve virtualization to ensure significant separations of concern for business tier systems (reducing the impact of cross-application interference activity; see Figure 7). With business and resource tier architecture, organizations often make the mistake of physically over-provisioning the server configuration, using excessive amounts of energy with no real processing benefit. For example, most departments buy more processors, memory, and disk capacity for the servers even when the server only needs a small fraction of these resources. This is commonly done for immediate capital budgetary reasons rather than scalability needs. In addition to wasting energy, often the department pays a premium price for the added components. Waiting for these upgrades usually decreases cost over time (saving the department capital expenditures as well as reducing energy consumption). However, capital budgetary models in organizations usually prevent such good financial behavior in the enterprise market.
Figure 7. Virtualization Example, Business Tier
The information resource tier represents important data management systems in the infrastructure. Common examples include databases, directories, file-systems, and fat files; a database example is shown in Figure 8.
Figure 8. Database Example
Information resource tier environments are usually high in I/O and memory-intensive activity. Windows Server 2008 Active Directories, File Servers, and SQL Server 2008 have the capacity to consolidate databases and directories on a single physical environment.
Environmental transference leverages software and services with a cloud application resource for solution resource optimization.
Transference makes it possible for an organization to transfer power, processing, and environmental impact to another entity. This approach can potentially reduce cost, complexity, and reduce impact on the environment (if the service provider has better environmental impact metrics than the enterprise). Today, infrastructure architectural solutions can take advantage of transference strategies with service providers with every tier.
Increasingly, environmental communities are promoting measuring the embodied energy/environmental cost as well as the operational environmental cost of a solution. The embodied environmental cost represents those costs involved in the manufacture of the specific service or product. Calculation of embodied environmental costs will become more accurate and prevalent as life cycle assessments mature in the industry.
While it is important to examine each layer of each tier carefully, it is essential to look at the architectural model as a whole to understand how your efforts are affecting specific targeted environmental impact metrics (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Whole System View (Click on the picture for a larger image)
In looking at the system, the following questions should be asked when determining if the architecture design will meet environmental sustainability goals:
Often, architects focus too much of their time on answer-based patterns. The basic formula is: In a given condition, do this. While each answer by itself can be effective, combined, these architectural answer patterns can lead to unusable or unstable solutions.
This is the reason that architects are increasingly leveraging question-based patterns to study the holistic impact of architectural decisions. What are the consistently good environmental impact questions to address? As environmental impact analysis becomes increasingly important, it will be crucial to leverage question-based analysis technique. (For more information on question-based architectural impact analysis frameworks, see Perspective Based Architecture Reference, listed in Resources.)
When it comes to designing environmentally sustainable architecture, it can be overwhelming organizing the complexity. However, we’ve narrowed down a list that can be leveraged when studying an architectural design (no matter the complexity or scale).
The following best practices summarize the guidelines discussed in this article:
Environmental impact and energy consumption are quickly becoming crucial systemic qualities for IT architectural design considerations. As this happens, it will be important for architects to understand this new systemic quality well and document successful patterns to analyze and design environmentally sustainable solutions in the future.
By focusing environmental objectives and systemically analyzing the infrastructure with proper design rigor, architects can effectively lead environmentally sustainability IT projects with a higher probability of success.
Perspective Based Architecture References
Lewis Curtis is a principal architect for the DPE Platform Architecture Team at Microsoft focusing on next generation enterprise infrastructure architecture and architectural issues for environmental sustainability. A speaker and writer, he has published in several journals (including The Architecture Journal, IEEE ITPro) investigating best practices and challenging issues for IT Architects. As one of the first Microsoft Certified Architects (MCA), Lewis has served on the board of advisors since its inception with a focus on training and growing senior architectural leaders. He has also promoted question-based patterns for architects as the founder of Perspective Based Architecture and Systemic Quality Impact Analysis. Besides work, Lewis enjoys time with his wife and two Saint Bernards. A little known fact is that Lewis was a professional musician playing saxophone and managing bands (jazz and rock ‘n’ roll) before his IT career. His blog is at http://blogs.technet.com/lcurtis.