UPDATE Mon 26 July: My interview with The BBC World Service ‘The World Today’ programme covering this topic aired this morning. Click here for the full thirty minute podcast, or here for just my interview excerpt.
I thought perhaps I would begin this Weekly View with a quick experiment …now, you’ll need a kettle for this exercise …and in this context we need this to be a kettle of the electric variety … so if you don’t have one, or reading this blog where ‘lectric kettles may be a foreign concept, here’s a picture of one which will suffice for now.
Okay, ready? Great. Now, I’d like you to go and boil your kettle seventeen and a half times. It’s okay, I know it takes a bit for each boil. I’ll wait. See you in a few minutes …or if you’re feeling generous, mine’s a PG Tips with milk and two Splendas.
Right …all done? Great! You’ve just expended as many greenhouse gases as you would by sending an email with a 4.7 megabyte attachment.
That’s right, campers … boiling your kettle 17.4 times consumes as many resources (electricity, water, and the like) and produces as much greenhouse gas as sending an email with a 4.7MB attachment in a traditional IT environment.
Now, I know what you’re thinking as I was thinking the same thing when I first read that statistic …what? How can this be?!
Without getting overly geeky on the topic, the short answer is that traditional IT environments tend not to be overly efficient at scale and we’ve known for quite some time that the traditional IT infrastructure …server plus storage plus network plus operating system plus application …tends to be siloed with each individual component connected physically to the others with wastage and efficiencies lost between these connections and within the physical devices themselves.
And, to be fair, traditional datacentres don’t fare much better …indeed, the datacentre industry as a whole has reached parity with the airline industry in CO2 production with 2% of all man-made CO2 comeing from computers and communications technology.
What’s this got to do with Data Storage and Protection?
I suppose that there is the obvious ‘think before you send emails with 4.7 meg attachments’. I’m somewhat bemused …well, saddened really …that with the green revolution of the past ten years or so I now get emails with the tagline ‘Think before you print!’ with pretty green trees from just about everyone these days. But what about having a tagline which gently asks the user …’Do you really need to send this, and, if so …please consider an alternative method rather than sending the attachment.’ Or, ‘Think before you send!’ for short.
Email has been the bane of many a storage administrator’s life as it has morphed from a purely text based system …remember SNDMSG, CICS, and OS/400? …to the rich text and inefficient file distribution model we find today. Why do people attach large files to email and send them to a large distribution list? I suppose the short answer is …it’s easy and they would argue they’ve more important things to be getting on with. Fair enough.
But this isn’t a blog post having a whack at email and email vendors …and we should consider the fact that the ubiquity of smart phones, high definition cameras, et al mean we’ll continue to create ever larger files …indeed, we’re uploading 24 hours worth of video to YouTube every minute up from 12 hours a minute just two years ago …so how do we reduce the amount of resources we’re consuming …electricity, datacentre space, and people to run the show cost dosh you know! …and the CO2 we’re creating when we need to share files with others?
I think there are five answers which are worth considering.
1. Introduce proactive limits for users.
Let’s face facts, reactive limits with users tend not to work and/or are quickly circumvented to keep the business moving. Telling users ‘your email mailbox cannot grow beyond 20MB or we’ll cut you off so you can’t send/receive email’ rarely works in my experience. Rather, we need to evolve this theory to be proactive.
For example, I use a great cloud based application called Evernote. I could write a whole post on just how great this app is …it allows me to take notes anywhere I am on my MacBook Air, iPod, Blackberry and keeps the notes and related notebooks in sync so that where ever I am, all of my notes are up to date without me having to do anything. Brilliant.
But here’s where it gets even better …it’s free. Provided I don’t exceed a 20MB monthly limit, of course …and therein lies the true genius in my mind. Evernote resets my 20MB limit at the beginning of each month so, providing I don’t exceed the 20MB in a month …sorted! This is the type of proactive limit I’m thinking of for users …we give you a limit and then count down monthly to zero. Stay in your limits, you’re good to go …exceed them, we charge you more on a graduated basis.
2. Rethink service levels for workloads.
So what are Evernote doing with the 20MB that I created last month …it doesn’t get deleted from my syncronised notes as they remain available to me, so what gives? To be honest, I’m not quite sure …my guess would be they move the data previously created to a lower tier of storage, such as dense 2TB SATA drives, or even archive.
To be fair, I don’t much care. I don’t notice any performance degradation and I get to carry on consuming the service for free.
Perhaps this is the key to the answer with our users …we’ll keep your data in a highly performant architecture for one month and then demote to a lower less performant tier thereafter and reset your limit. And we won’t ‘charge’ you unless you exceed your limit.
3. Introduce datacentre technology optimisation in the form of virtualised datacentres [VDC]s.
I’ve talked a lot about VDCs in previous posts starting with this one and many more since, so there’s no reason for me to labour the point more here other than to say that what VDCs deliver is optimisation by removing wastage as well as increasing business agility.
How much optimisation? Chad Sakac, Vice President of VMware Strategic Alliance and the general in charge of ‘Chad’s Army’ of VCE vBlock gurus, blogged in 2009 about the potential benefits of deploying a vBlock against deploying technology silos. An excerpt follows below:
- 30% increase in server utilization (through pushing vSphere 4 further, and denser memory configurations)
- 80% faster dynamic provisioning of storage and server infrastructure (through EMC Ionix UIM, coupled with template-oriented provisioning models with Cisco, VMware, and EMC)
- 40% cost reduction in cabling (fibre / patch cords etc.) and associated labor (through extensive use of 10GbE)
- 50% increase in server density (through everything we do together – so much it’s too long to list)
- 200% increase in VM density (through end-to-end design elements)
- Day to day task automation (through vCenter, UCS Manager and EMC Ionix UIM)
- 30% less power consumption (through everything we do together)
- Minimum of 72 VMs per KW (note that this is a very high VM/power density)
Now, I say potential benefits as, at present, these numbers have been derived from product datasheets and lab work by EMC …however we at Computacenter are looking to put more substantive quantitative analysis behind these benefits (and those of other VDC variants such as NTAP SMT, HDS UCP, ‘open VDC’) as we deploy VDCs with our customers locally in the UK. Watch this space.
4. Use alternative distribution tools for large attachment distribution and filesharing.
I really try not to use email as a file distribution these days, preferring instead to use cloud applications such as Dropbox to share large files with others such as internal, customers, and our vendor partners. Now, this isn’t perfect as a) in the absence of my using encryption I wouldn’t wish to use this for sensitive corporate data, and b) it does have a ‘hard stop’ limit where I can only store 2.5GB for free with no reset limit like we have with Evernote.
But using tools such as Dropbox, uploading personal photos to Facebook instead of emailing them, if I must send an attachment trying to shrink it by converting to PDF or similar …every little helps!
That said, I accept that I’m a geek by trade and we need to find ‘easy’ ways for everyday users which replace email as a distribution system without increasing complexity.
After I’ve done that I’m planning to sort world peace, famine, and poverty.
5. Rethinking how we create data.
Only about 20% of the data we create today is ‘text’, with rich media [high def videos, pictures, etc.] representing well over 50% or more of the new data being created.
Equally, the text data we are creating is rarely just text …by the time we save it in MS Word or similar we have increased the file size with the formatting and related metadata, and many users choose to use PPT to communicate ideas such as business plans and so on …a large file type if ever there was one …and that’s without even adding any pictures, charts, or videos to the PPT.
Again, I’m not having a go at the use of PPT or MS Word …but I do believe we are going to have to begin to think about how we create data so that the data ‘footprint’ is smaller in addition to the optimisation and alternative distribution models we’ve discussed above.
Which has me thinking …it’s time for a nice cuppa before Mrs. PL needs my help setting the table for dinner with she and PL Junior …the highlight of my week!
Have a great weekend and remember your kettle the next time you send an attachment.