By one estimate, 10 million zombie servers world-wide use up power roughly equal in total to eight large power plants
There are zombies lurking in data centers around the world.
They’re servers—millions of them, by one estimate—sucking up lots of power while doing nothing. It is a lurking environmental problem that doesn’t get much discussion outside of the close-knit community of data-center operators and server-room geeks.
The problem is openly acknowledged by many who have spent time in a data center: Most companies are far better at getting servers up and running than they are at figuring out when to pull the plug, says Paul Nally, principal of his own consulting company, Bruscar Technologies LLC, and a data-center operations executive with experience in the financial-services industry. “Things that should be turned off over time are not,” he says. “And unfortunately the longer they linger there, the worse the problem becomes.”
Nothing new. Everything that gets purchased, installed and asset tagged that draws power will continue to draw power for years, sometimes long after it’s work is done. Transformers that are hard to get to, so remain plugged in after the device they powered is long gone. These are doubly Zombies, all transformers that remained plugged in after the device is turned off will draw significant power;
No-load losses are caused by the magnetizing current needed to energize the core of the transformer, and do not vary according to the loading on the transformer. They are constant and occur 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, regardless of the load, hence the term no-load losses.
Not-sexy: no-load losses, Sexy: Zombie power!
So, computer servers still plugged in after their work is done, no big deal. Computers and ancillary systems plugged in and powered up years after their project and the personal who ran it are gone are understandable. But systems (servers, communications and network routers plus adapters including terminals) still chugging along that NEVER were put into service. That’s the real deal. On a system that was in service, often the last guy out the door will kill the power or at least ask; “Do you want this off?” But for a system that never got put into production… and yes I’ve seen it.
I came in to the world headquarters for a major American bank as the new engineer. As I began to explore the system and documented the equipment (something neither management or the customer had ever thought to ask) I discovered an entire VoIP server and interface rack including separate battery backup. I had to trace the addresses, translate the routing and look for steering codes to enable the system to receive traffic before I realized that the entire 60 cubic foot installation, drawing a constant 15 amps, was inactive. Doing nothing. I did some research and found out that the entire thing was a demonstration project to sell the Nortel version of VoIP to one of the worlds largest banking networks. The bank executive that OK’d it left and at the banks executive level and at Nortel the whole thing was shelved. But no one ever asked or requested that the equipment be shut off. There was also a closet full of brand-new and advanced VoIP phone terminals, thirty of them if I remember correctly. The whole thing probably cost half a million. Then there is the power cost for the Five Years the thing was left in place doing nothing.
Knowing how the bank operated (committees based on the same design as the one that designed the mouse and came up with an elephant), I didn’t ask permission. I just switched it all off and disabled the alarms that would have raised ten levels of hell.
It happens. In fact, about twenty years before that, I was installing a new phone system into a Cambridge company when I entered the attic above the offices, in winter, and was surprised at how warm it was. I heard some clicking and blinking lights. After a moment I realized I was looking at a old New England Telephone Company system (all electro-mechanical and wired logic). The wall next to the 4×5 machine was old style wiring blocks using fifty and hundred pair copper cables. Everything was dusty, dirty really. The 20th century version of Dracula’s tomb. It was not the system we had replaced. It was the system that that system had replaced, probably ten or fifteen years ago. It too had never been turned off. Luckily, before the War on Carbon, electricity didn’t cost that much.
No, I didn’t turn it off. Not my job man!