Bio: Mark Lafferty is director of servers, storage, power and cooling for CDW, a leading provider of technology products and services for business, government, healthcare and education. Lafferty’s team of solutions architects and engineers ensure that CDW customers understand the full range of options and solutions available to optimize their data centers.

Lafferty joined CDW in 1997 and has worked in a variety of positions, most recently leading the technical pre-sales teams that support sales, the IBM Unix practice and the storage, power and cooling division. Lafferty holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Illinois. He is a board member of the Society for the Preservation of Human Dignity and a member of the Chicago Executive Club.

About CDW: CDW is a leading provider of technology solutions for business, government, education and healthcare. Ranked No. 32 on Forbes’ list of America’s Largest Private Companies, CDW features dedicated account managers who help customers choose the right technology products and services to meet their needs. The company’s solution architects offer expertise in designing customized solutions, while its advanced technology engineers assist customers with the implementation and long-term management of those solutions. Areas of focus include software, network communications, notebooks and mobile devices, data storage, video monitors, desktops, printers and solutions such as virtualization, collaboration, security, mobility, data center optimization and cloud computing.

 

NTT Com: CDW recently published its fourth Energy Efficient IT Report. What efficiency tactics seem to be top priorities for IT professionals now?

Lafferty: Some of the top initiatives are those that help companies get more out of data centers as they continue to shrink in size. There are more computing demands being put on the IT folks who are running data centers. The trend in IT has been to try to do more with less. People who work in the data center are being asked to support more user applications and business demands. But they are being asked to do that creatively and with fewer resources than they have historically had. Because of this, we have seen a big, continued push in the virtualization and server consolidation arenas. Those are the two biggest areas of focus that we see from an IT perspective.

 

NTT Com: What is the primary motivator for the drive toward energy efficiency? Are companies just looking for cost savings or is it in part because of increased pressure for them to reduce their carbon footprint?

Lafferty: There are direct and indirect returns on the actual energy savings. As I mentioned, we talk a lot about doing more or the same with less. Thus, when you reduce the footprint in the data center and maintain or increase the computing capability, it’s a win-win from an energy efficiency standpoint and from a business demand perspective. We are looking at consolidation of the server footprint; we are reducing the number of servers that we have. And we are virtualizing as much as we can to reduce the number of less efficient servers that are out there, as well as reducing the actual footprint of the data center, so you have less of a carbon footprint.

There is a commitment to really understand what the current energy consumption is. What was not available even two years ago now is available. They continue to make improvements that help us understand how to allocate the right amount of power consumption for the computing you need on a real-time basis.

NTT Com: What kinds of cost savings are possible for a company that makes data center energy efficiency a priority?

Lafferty: It depends on the organization, as each is designed differently. The significance of the impact depends on the environment. But you do see an uptick in efficiency gains when a company is using the tools that help them improve energy efficiency.

Years ago, these tools were harder to come by. Now, there are tools to help people in the data center analyze current consumption so they can make recommendations about where they could make more efficient choices. A lot more tools provide the analytics behind energy consumption in a data center. There are free assessments from the EPA and others that make it easier to understand how much power a server is consuming and to identify the peak times of server utilization. There are tools to help professionals reallocate where a server resides within the data center, understand where the loads are for computing, and to balance things out to make power and cooling the most efficient for the business. Knowing where energy consumption is coming from, and at what times, helps IT professionals clearly allocate where computing loads go on different servers. This makes the entire operation run more efficiently. There is much more discussion about energy efficiency; it seems to be a higher priority among IT professionals who make data center decisions. And there are a lot more tools available to them to achieve these efficiency goals.

 

NTT Com: It feels like just having access to the right information is empowering us to make relatively small changes that can result in significant savings.

Lafferty: That is largely true. But in the world of data centers, these decisions are never static. Things are ever changing. So having those analytics available to you as the business demands change allows the data center to change along with them. That’s really where the power of virtualization and software analytics tools come into play.

 

NTT Com: What do you see as the primary barrier to running a more energy efficient data center?

Lafferty: From a simple perspective, the problem is awareness and education. Businesses have to understand that they can make significant impacts to their bottom lines by being more efficient. It also takes some education to help them understand how to do it and what tools can help them do it. But I don’t see this as a per purchase discussion. This is more of a strategic outlook at your data center — how you are making moves within the data center, designing future data centers and how you are running the existing business to identify efficiency gains through server consolidation and virtualization of the environment.

The first step is seemingly the hardest. Once you understand that you can make significant improvements to data center efficiency, you have to figure out where to turn to help you realize these returns. People need to include energy efficiency in their strategic discussions about where they are heading with their computing environments. Just making sure that energy efficiency is on the list of priorities for the next 18 months can make a powerful statement about where the IT environment will go. There are a lot of gains to be realized once you succeed with making energy efficiency a goal.

 

NTT Com: Can companies realize significant energy efficiency gains by devoting time and attention to these issues or do they really need to commit significant budget to this goal as well?

Lafferty: The organization needs to have the strategic outlook that these decisions provide hard savings initially, but over time, these savings are multiplied by a good strategy. The initial investment can be minimized. If you’re looking at a three-year plan for your data center, obviously there will be things that you need to run the business over that time period. If you just understand the impact of more efficient power consumption, you can make decisions over the next three years that will help you realize savings both up front at the time of investment, and also over time as you continue to reduce power consumption.

 

NTT Com: If you can minimize the upfront investment, why isn’t everybody doing so?

Lafferty: There is a climate out there that everybody needs to see the return right now. People want to see the return, the savings, quickly. Of course, with energy efficiency investments, you will seem some returns immediately. But selling the return over time is a little tougher these days. Nobody wants to sacrifice computing and the running of their business for the sake of being more efficient. But actually, with these efficiency decisions, they will see an increase in their computing power along with an improvement to their energy efficiency.

 

NTT Com: Your Energy Efficient IT Report showed that many IT professionals now view cloud computing as an energy efficient data center consolidation option. Explain how this motivator fits into the typical reasons businesses are moving the cloud, for instance, flexibility, scalability and cost savings?

Lafferty: This is a collaboration between the cloud provider and the business. As you move things into the cloud, those companies that are managing the environment are very conscious of the energy consumption. They are doing things on their end to help increase efficiency of the applications they are providing to customers. At the same time, it reduces the footprint — as you move things to the cloud, there is less need for additional servers in your own environment. As a partnership between a business and the cloud provider, there are significant energy savings.

 

NTT Com: What kinds of new technologies hold even more potential to maintain the data center in an energy efficient manner?

Lafferty: I have seen a real commitment to creating a holistic view of a data center, and even more so of facilities. Going back to the analytics of it, there is a commitment to really understand what the current energy consumption is. What was not available even two years ago now is available. They continue to make improvements that help us understand how to allocate the right amount of power consumption for the computing you need on a real-time basis. A lot of traditional providers of power and cooling are looking into software solutions to help their hardware work more efficiently and provide the people running data centers with the information they need to make smart decisions.

 

 

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