Going Green with Data Storage

Your company can reduce its carbon footprint while making the most of its manpower, physical space and technology resources. Here’s how to make your data storage more efficient—and more cost-effective.

Technology runs on electricity—a lot of it, as it turns out. By at least one estimate, the IT industry generates 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, an enormous carbon footprint. But even if saving the planet isn’t on your agenda, saving money for your company should be. IT energy use is under the microscope, and techniques to improve efficiency, save energy and, as a result, save money are always welcome.

Though it may be easy to do so, don’t assume that an all digital “green data center” is inherently more efficient than one that combines various technologies for data storage and backup. That’s not necessarily the case. However, IT managers can use a variety of available tools and systems to optimize a green data center’s overall efficiency:

  • Virtualization, both at the server and at the desktop, uses software tricks to make one server and/or processor mimic the work of several. In fact, you can create up to 20 virtual servers on one physical server, vastly improving your efficiency as you cut down on hardware use.
  • Solid-state disks (SSD) are gaining in popularity because they have no moving parts, are energy efficient, and are very fast, albeit expensive. Some data center designers strive to put critical I/O operations on SSDs, while bigger, cheaper, slower disks handle more routine tasks.
  • In a massive array of idle disks (MAID) system, some drives “spin down” when they’re not in use to save energy and wear.
  • Removable disks consume no energy when they go offline and simply hold archival storage.

Tape: The Energy Efficient Answer

And then there is tape-based storage, which costs far less to procure, power, cool and maintain than other data storage technologies, saving energy and money. Tape is hardly a retro technology. In fact, in a June 2011 study, 57 percent of IT organizations in North America and Europe said they are still using tape-based systems at the core of their backup and disaster recovery strategies. Tape remains a key component of all truly green data centers.

Think about it: Once your data is on tape, it takes precisely zero energy to preserve it for 30 years or more. No technology with moving parts, such as constantly spinning disks, can compete. Best yet, tape has a very low acquisition cost and so fits easily into any data backup budget.

Data storage currently consumes about 40 percent of the electricity used in a data center. You can cut that percentage significantly by using power-efficient tape backup. Disk mismanagement is a chronic IT problem, with up to 70 percent of disk-based data never being accessed at all. That’s the kind of data that should be backed up to tape and stored at a much lower cost.

Keep in mind that tape is ridiculously less expensive than disk. While cutting-edge solid-state disk storage currently costs up to $5,000 per gigabyte, a similar capacity of tape storage rarely costs more than $3 per gigabyte. Tape has always provided a lower total cost of ownership than disk. By one estimate, the real-world cost of powering disk-based backup is a whopping 23 times that of powering a similarly sized tape-based system.

What’s more, tape continues to become more robust. Each generation of LTO cartridges has roughly doubled in capacity—the latest LTO-4 Ultrium tape drives hold eight times the capacity of the first LTO tape drive, launched in 2000. So even in this era of “big data,” there’s no danger that tape will be unable to handle large data sets anytime soon.

Trending to Tape

Add it all up, and it’s easy to make the case for tape backup as an essential component of a green data center.

Tape backup systems:

  • Have a lower migration cost, a longer lifespan and therefore a lower total cost of ownership
  • Are a preferred method of offline data protection
  • Enjoy a 30-year shelf life—longer than any competing storage technology
  • Offer easy portability, an important consideration if your company plans to grow or move
  • Have ultra-high capacity, and you can scale them easily to grow as your organization does

Remember, a tape drive waiting for a backup or store request uses less power than a 25-watt light bulb. What better way to create a green data backup system than to store a terabyte of data without using any energy at all?

Smart Steps to a Greener Data Center

There are many ways to reduce energy consumption in your data center—and save money while you save the planet as well. Think about putting in place systems that address the ever-increasing need to add storage without sacrificing performance. Look for data storage systems that:

  • Optimize on power consumption
  • Contain energy-efficient components
  • Have high-capacity disk drives
  • Move frequently accessed data to cache or solid-state memory
  • Delete unwanted data before storage
  • Move infrequently used data to tape
  • Consolidate and move data to networked or virtual storage

Iron Mountain Suggests: Find the Right Partner

You don’t need to go green alone. Search out a data backup and recovery partner that has the knowledge to help guide you through your options.

Assess your needs. Lay out your storage requirements, and you’re likely to determine that a mix of storage media leads to the optimal solution.

Make tape a cornerstone of your archiving strategy. It delivers bang for the buck in terms of both storage capacity and energy consumption.

Remember offsite solutions. Managing, storing and retrieving data doesn’t have to happen completely onsite. Offsite data storage is a key to protecting your vital business information and records and helping you avoid downtime disasters.


Do you have questions about data backup and recovery? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s Data Backup and Recovery team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.

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