AOL Wins Server Roundup Contest, Saves $5 Million by Getting Rid of Old Servers

We talk a lot in this blog about energy efficiency and how to use techniques ranging from containment systems to economizer mode and DCIM tools to help wring every bit of savings you can out of your data centers. Those tools are indeed valuable but the Server Roundup contest run by the Uptime Institute points to another simple, practical way you can increase energy efficiency: get rid of old stuff.

“The intent of the Server Roundup is to encourage and recognize the removal of obsolete computing hardware, which in turn has a huge impact on overall energy use,” said Matt Stansberry, Director of Content and Publications, Uptime Institute, in a statement. “So much of the past several years’ efforts around data center efficiency has focused on the facilities’ infrastructure and PUE. This contest was specifically designed to engage the IT community to get serious about asset utilization and energy efficiency.”

AOL, the winner of the Roundup, certainly took it seriously. The company got rid of nearly 9,500 servers, more than a quarter of its server inventory. From the Uptime Institute’s press release:

The Roundup resulted in a total savings of $5.05 million from reduced utility costs, maintenance, and licensing costs, and includes cash in hand of $1.2 million from asset sales and reclamation. Environmental benefits were seen in the reduction of almost 20 tons of carbon emissions.

NBCUniversal came in a distant second, removing 284 servers, or about 7.4% of its inventory; about 3,800 physical servers remain. Again from the Uptime Institute release:

“Taking a routine activity that most people never see and moving it to the forefront of the conversation is a great mechanism to inspire not only our team but healthy competition between like-minded organizations,” said Saul Mankes, Director, Data Protection & Infrastructure Continuity NBCUniversal, MediaWorks. “Through intense virtualization efforts and rigid reviews of infrastructure NBCUniversal has been able to retire over 60 tons of recycled hardware. As a result the company has been successful in lowering power consumption, support costs and increasing awareness of these challenges.”

Mankes makes a good point: moving a seemingly mundane issue like retiring old servers to the forefront of the conversation is a good way to effect real change. And decommissioning a server saves real money.

A single 1U rack server can result in $500 per year in energy savings, another $500 in operating system license savings and $1,500 in hardware maintenance costs, according to the Uptime Institute. That’s $2,000 total – for one server. Now, by those calculations, AOL should’ve saved about $19 million, not $5 million, but why quibble – even $500 per server is still good money.

What’s more, the Institute says that, based on its field experience, up to 10% of the servers in any given rack aren’t doing anything. Again, I’d take that with a grain of salt but the point is valid; you’ve probably got some servers that are churning away but not delivering any value to the company.

Yes, it takes work to identify servers that are obsolete, but if you can have some fun rallying the troops around a contest like the Server Roundup, maybe it’ll make the work less taxing.

If you’re game, the Uptime Institute is holding the contest again next year and you’ve got nearly a year to prepare: the deadline for submissions is Feb. 1, 2013. It says the rules are the same as last year; you’ll find them here. Good luck!

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