The lean approach to data centers has caught on big time as a means to reduce cost and improve efficiency. A primary focus of the lean approach to data centers is on reducing cooling expenses and improving the energy efficiency of servers. While this is indeed valuable and helps to generate savings, this may actually be a wrong priority. The losses that result from not optimizing cooling may be minuscule compared to the losses due to underutilization of servers. With excess servers eliminated, the need to cool or optimize the energy requirements of these excess servers goes away by itself.
The problem of underutilized servers is underestimated. Garner pegs industry-wide server utilization at just 12% in 2012. A 2008 McKinsey study had estimated data center utilization at just 6%, and the 2010 Green Grid study backs up these numbers as well. With the advent of server virtualization, data center utilization is actually getting worse rather than better.
The reason for such abysmal numbers is not hard to find: with servers getting cheaper, it makes more sense for managers to simply buy a new one to accommodate a new process rather than waste scarce time identifying spare capacity or improving the efficiency on existing servers. Over time, these servers accumulate and run way below their capacity and even on empty if the process has been discontinued. This increases energy and real estate costs considerably.
The solution is to focus on the complete internal data center supply chain rather than a component approach to identify waste, and to use statistical quality management methods to improve efficiency and quality. The lean principle of 5S offers a structured approach to this end. The application of 5S, in conjunction with Six Sigma, answers questions such as “How many now-virtualized processes are still running in tandem on in-house servers?,” “How many duplicate processes are running” and more. Application of Lean Six Sigma can reduce data center floor space significantly, reduce server load, energy consumption and tons of CO2 emissions.
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