The Raritan Blog

Why Do Idle Servers Exist in the Data Center?

Michael Bord
February 24, 2016

When orchestrated correctly, the data center is a symphony of disparate devices working together in complete harmony.  But, the reality is that few data centers are as orderly as the New York Philharmonic.  In 2012, the Uptime Institute published a report that found around 30% of data center servers were under-utilized or altogether idle.  But why do idle servers exist in the data center in the first place?

In November of 2015, Andy Patrizio provided the following insights in IT World:

“So why does this problem continue to go unaddressed? Two reasons: the IT group does not have responsibility for the electric bill and IT does a lousy job tracking ownership of the servers once deployed. It buys the servers but doesn't pay the electric bill or keep a proper inventory and that allows zombies to proliferate.”

The article also points to other common causes of idle servers, such as turnover. 

"Over time, what you find is the people with the knowledge of the environment change jobs or get let go and there is no knowledge transfer. No one knows what those servers are so they don't touch them. They assume if it's there it's running in production and they don't do anything with it."

Read more of Patrizio's article. 

But while fingers get pointed, companies continue to incur the costs. Consider that a typical five-year-old server, that is not ENERGY STAR compliant could consume 175 watts at idle. If 10% of the servers in a 1000 server data center are ghost servers, and electricity costs $0.15/kWh, it equates to roughly $23,000 of unnecessary expense, not including your cooling expenses.

So what’s the answer?  Well in 2011, Cisco embarked on a two-year initiative that saved the company at least $9M annually in electricity costs.  The lion’s shares of those savings were the result of installing and configuring rack mount power strips across 1,600 labs globally.  Those metered and switched PDUs, helped the company to monitor power and energy, and manage it more efficiently.   The company saw additional savings by using remote power controls to automatically shut down equipment when not in use. 

Although achieving $9M in annual savings may not be obtainable for every data center, Cisco’s story illustrates the benefits of proper rack instrumentation.  So for now, one of the keys to preventing idle servers from running up the tab is to simply be able to spot them. 

Learn more about rack power distribution units from Raritan and DCIM power monitoring solutions.