Are Vampires & Zombies a Genuine Threat to the Planet?

OK – let’s be clear, we’re not talking mythical monsters here, but two largely unseen and often unmeasured consumers of power and resources.  Even if they don’t live up to the ravenous reputations of their movie counterparts, in this post we look at why zombies and vampires are serious considerations for IT sustainability and climate change.

Vampires have been around in film for almost exactly one hundred years (Nosferatu was released in 1922), with the first zombie film (White Zombie) appearing 10 years later.  Yes, no apologies, if I had a mastermind topic it would be early horror films.  But how do these mythical creatures relate to IT and sustainability?  Let’s look at them in turn.

What Exactly are the Vampires Sucking?

A “Vampire device” is one which draws power from the grid even when it is in standby or powered down.  And by device we don’t just mean a computer or datacentre “server”.  Phone chargers, power adapters, battery packs, basically anything that is plugged into sockets may be draining valuable energy.

How big an issue is this? 

Some estimates put power loss to vampire devices as high as 20% of total consumption.  EU legislation (Regulation No 1275/2008) came into force in January 2010 ensuring that electrical products have a standby mode and restricting their power “draw” to 1 watt.  This was subsequently halved to 0.5 Watts in 2013.  The EU estimates that these measures have saved 35.5 TWh per year, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of Romania. This has saved EU consumers €25 billion per year and more importantly removed 39 Mt of CO2 emissions.

So is the problem sorted?

Not quite.  The legislation is different for “networked” devices, i.e. those connected by wires or Wi-Fi to a network, including the internet.   These still have to go into standby mode, but can consume significantly higher amounts of energy. Networked devices include computers (tablets, laptops and PCs) televisions and decoders, printers, game consoles and modems.

The scope also includes devices which are connected together, so an external monitor or a printer are networked devices, even if only connected to a device via a cable.

Since January 2017 networked devices in standby mode must not consume more than 3 to 12 Watts depending on the product, reduced from 20 to 80 Watts previously. The upper power range is reserved for devices with “High Network Availability” (HiNA) functionality, typically networking equipment such as routers and switches. 

This legislative decrease is estimated to have saved an additional 36-38 TWh, but the fact is that businesses and homes contain an ever-increasing number of networked  devices which are still consuming significant amounts of power.

What to do about the Vampires?

We need to consider “standby” features (time to enter standby and passive power consumption) as well as “active” power draw when making personal and business purchasing decisions, particularly for our end user computing (PCs, laptops and tablets) and networking devices.

While the legislation sets out the upper limits of what is acceptable, it is the purchaser who determines the direction of travel for manufacturers.

We also need to get in the habit of unplugging those devices that don’t need to be in standby (including chargers and adapters), or else ensuring that they are connected to the mains via “smart” power strips that cut the power completely when not in use.

Powering down devices if they are not going to be used for more a few hours (e.g. overnight) makes good environmental and economic sense – and can help prolong the life of components, improve performance and ensure that system updates are regularly applied.  The boot up time of most devices is now so quick that the inconvenience of lost time is really very minor.

Checking that individual devices have the optimal power settings is also good practice and many infrastructure management tools can provide reports on the power profiles of individual devices to identify and target those with excessive consumption.

Px3 can help through our sustainability reports that identify these issues, profile devices and put their environmental impact into a context and format that people can easily understand.

Killing Zombies for Planet and Productivity

While Vampires are quietly drawing power from the grid in small amounts, zombies are a bit more aggressive.  They are physical or virtual devices which are switched on and consuming energy, but serving no useful purpose and providing no accessible resources. (Note that these are very different from the other type of zombies which are PCs and servers infected with malware used by criminals in spam and denial of service attacks).

How big an issue is this? 

Very significant.  One recent US study indicated that 25% of all physical and 30% of all virtual servers were “comatose” (not used for at least 6 months).  That equates  to over 10 million zombie servers worldwide, drawing 4 Gigawatts of power, wasting enough energy to power over a million homes, with obvious environmental and cost implications.

They are also a security risk, not to mention wasting valuable space, resources and licensing in enterprise data centres.

Even when they have been detected, removal is not as simple as a quick “head-shot”.  Just because a server has had no in-bound or out-bound connections for 11 months does not mean it isn’t used annually for a business-critical task. 

Why Do Zombies Exist?

It’s a simple fact that it is easier to purchase and install something than to manage it over a long period of time.  Servers which are associated with legacy applications or long-forgotten projects can simply become “part of the furniture”.  Normally they are only exposed during a major datacentre refresh or a move to the cloud, when the function of every physical and virtual device is being questioned.

Many older servers are also retained for specific tasks such as back up, for contingency or seasonal, peak workload tasks.

Do Zombies Exist in the Cloud?

Absolutely.  Zombies can exist and consume your resources just as easily in “someone else’s datacentre” as your own.

What to do about the Zombies?

Firstly, put the problem into business context. Remember that these devices, whether virtual or physical, are consuming energy, space and resources such as software licenses.  All of these have a cost to your organisation and the energy consumption in particular has a cost for the planet.

Somewhere within your toolset there should be a way to identify the scale of the problem by using:

  • Cloud workload management software
  • Server Analytics
  • Data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) tools
  • Configuration management database (CMDB)
  • Intelligent Power Distribution Units (PDUs)

Depending where you are on the on-premises / cloud spectrum there should be sufficient information from these sources to profile every server and determine whether it is fulfilling a useful function.  Remember that it as much about identifying connections and user access to data and resources (which may be very light touch) as it is about actual activity.

Zombie hunting is all about finding those resources that are seriously underutilised and either removing them entirely or consolidating them onto more efficient infrastructure, which may well be in the cloud.

When it is time to eradicate the menace, communication and change management processes will be needed to avoid business disruption and recriminations.

This is where Px3 can assist.  Putting your clean-up operation into your sustainability project means this is not just an IT housekeeping project, it’s also a corporate and environmental one.

Conclusion

While the names are the stuff of legend, the issues are ones of practicality.  We need to be more efficient and careful with our resources in order to improve the sustainability of IT.

That means making sustainability part of our purchasing decisions, operational and management practices and housekeeping.

The fact that these changes also typically reduce costs and improve efficiency means that there should be little resistance to an initiative from IT that benefits Planet, People and Productivity.

Px3 includes awareness workshops and sustainability webinars in our client engagement options.

Want to find out more? – join us for our upcoming webinar with Citrix, Royal Borough of Kingston & Sutton and Google on the 10th Feb – register here

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

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