Emissions reduction from virtualisation products: An interview with Mornay Van Der Walt and Nicola Acutt of VMware

Emissions reduction from virtualisation products: An interview with Mornay Van Der Walt and Nicola Acutt of VMware

An IDC report, sponsored by VMware, shows how virtualisation products, namely VMware’s products, reduce carbon emissions. The report also evaluated the CO2 emissions that were avoided because of server virtualisation as well as consolidation. The results showed that this reduction in power consumption and CO2 emissions could be directly attributed to the use of virtualisation and VMware products around the world. The report found that CO2 emissions avoided related to the use of VMware server virtualisation products grew from 107,000 metric tons/year in 2003 to 67 million metric tons/year in 2015. This CO2 avoidance in 2015 alone was the equivalent of removing 14 million cars from the road.

REM talked to Nicola Acutt, vice president, Sustainability Strategy - Office of the CTO, VMware and Mornay Van Der Walt, vice president of Research & Development, Xplorer Group – Office of the CTO, VMware.

Tell me more about VMware and what it does

From a sustainability perspective, VMware represents one of the unknown sustainability stories, certainly in IT and IT end use. I think the essence of the IDC report is what I call massive positive externalities that have been enabled through VMware’s software and solutions. One of the benefits is that we’ve known for a long time that the software achieves extraordinary levels of efficiency. Ultimately what has happened over the period of time that we did this study is that VMware has enabled the IT ecosystem to do so much more with less. But that is not the complete story. When you look at the increase in demand for IT and as cloud computing explodes, I think the vision is the clean cloud of the future, it’s a complex equation but there are two important parts to that equation with one part being the possibility for radical efficiency. We’ve done a lot of work over the years looking at building efficiencies in data centres and things like that, but not a lot has been said about compute itself. I think that the vision of what is possible to enable a sustainable future, a critical part of that is the Internet of Things (IoT). What is happening with cloud computing is both a source of power but also a lot of opportunity for the computer piece as well. Mornay is definitely the expert in that sense.

What are virtualisation products? What do they do?

Mornay: Pre-virtualisation, you have hardware running in the data centre that was then mapped to an operating system running on top of that and the operating system would be running a couple of applications. When it’s running in that mode, there are CPU resources, memory resources, disk resources, network resources, and if you sum all of that up you can get a profile of the resource utilisation on that server. When you physically look at that resource utilisation, as CPUs became more powerful, there was a trend that a customer would buy a server and they would load up their operating system, load up their application segments, put that into the data centre, turn it over to a line of business or their consumers within that company that are using that server and maybe that server was running anywhere between 10 and 25 percent utilisation, and that ranges according to the type of application that is running on it.

There were a lot of underutilised resources. So what VMware discovered is that if we add a virtualisation layer on top of that server, we can then run multiple instances of a virtual machine. When you introduce that virtualisation layer, think of it as follows: you’ve got hardware, you’ve got a virtualisation layer and on top of that you would build a virtual machine. Within that virtual machine you then have a representation of an operating system and applications running on top of that. If you just had one virtual machine running on that server, you would see utilisation again of 10-25 percent based on the profile of the application set. You’ve got a virtual machine running completely isolated on top of that and we call that virtualisation for compute the hypervisor and now you’ve got the ability to add other virtual machines next to it. And they are completely isolated, but they appear to the user, and to the administrator running that server, as a single server, except that the server is now virtualised.

What that allows you to do is, instead of just having a mapping of hardware – to an operating systems to an application set, I now have my server hardware, I’ve got my hypervisor layer and I can have from one to any number of virtual machines. As I increase the number of virtual machines, I now drive up utilisation of the resources on that server. As a customer, you then ask ‘what is my risk profile’? I want to drive up the resource utilisation on that server, maybe up to 75 percent, leaving 25 percent off. So let’s say I was running a physical server with one application that’s using 20 percent, I could potentially put that hypervisor on play, which is what we’ve done, and now I can have four virtual machines running on that server. That’s equivalent to 80 percent utilisation versus putting four physical servers in the data centre, powering them up and using only 20 percent of their resource capacity, but still powering them up the same. That’s what the IDC report shows. IDC keeps numbers of physical server deployment, so they were able to extrapolate out, how many carbon emissions we’ve been able to eliminate due to our core computer virtualisations technology.

Therefore you are using the same or more computer potential but saving a lot more energy?

Correct. In the early days of virtualisation, if you go back to around 2004/5 (VMware was started in 1998), the big use-case was server consolidation. You could go from maybe having 100 servers being utilised between 10-25 percent down to 25 servers because you have consolidated resources by running the hypervisor with four virtual machines per physical server. That dramatically reduces power, eliminating cooling and spatial requirements and has a dramatic impact on your power and resource utilisation.

What amount of energy savings can this can deliver?

Using the IDC paper as a point of reference, over the past 13 years, leveraging VMware virtualisation technology has avoided 603 million MWh of cumulative power consumption. That is equivalent to the power consumed by 43 percent of total US households for one calendar year (during 2015 per US Census data). I feel we not only have a sustainability story around how we run our company, but also have a story surrounding how our facilities are set up but we have a product that is game-changing. Customers using our product have an even stronger sustainability story.

How close is this to being adopted right across the US or maybe even further afield, outside the US?

We have been at the top right quadrant of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for many years now, with over 500,000 customers actively using this technology in their data centres. We are viewed as the market leader when it comes to computer virtualisation, but we haven’t stopped there. We talk about the software-defined data centre. This year you will see work coming out of VMware that will talk about additional efficiencies, on top of computer virtualisation. From a storage point of view, we had a very successful launch, back in 2014, of a product called ‘ySAN’ [SAN stands for ‘Storage Area Network’]. That takes a lot of concepts of what we did with computer virtualisation and now we actually start to virtualise the local disks and pool them together on the servers that are running our vSphere technology.

That has incredible benefits within data centres because typically when you run virtualisation software or if you run a physical server running a database application, you weren’t running those databases on local disks, you were running them on storage arrays. Those storage arrays draw a lot of power and that has a significant footprint in the data centre that will require cooling. What we see now is a whole movement in the software-defined storage space where customers are very comfortable with the computer virtualisation and the benefits that are afforded to them through that technology and they are now embracing software defined. We have a very strong offering in that space through the vSAN Technology. With customers running the storage from SAN on to that local disk through the vSAN technology, we are going to be able to calculate additional efficiencies on top of the compute, because you’re eliminating the need for that storage array, having decided to go through the software-defined architecture.

Looking at it realistically, that doesn’t mean every single customer is going to remove all their SANs and go software-defined using vSAN. It really comes down to the kind of workload. You’re going to see a hybrid of traditional and software defined storage, but as the software-defined technology takes off and it becomes more mainstream, there will definitely be a reduction in those stand-alone storage arrays that were offering up storage for virtualised infrastructure. Then carry that one step further. We’ve made some very strategic acquisitions going back over the last five years. One that we made was a company called Nicira. That allowed us to get into the software-defined networking space. Now, with the combination of virtualised compute, virtualised storage and virtualised networking through software-defined networking, we are uniquely positioned to offer even more cost-savings and efficiencies to our customers. From a vSAN point of view, we are at 7,000 customers. We are hoping that is going to grow rapidly so that we drive even more efficiencies through the data centre.

Who is going to deploy this technology?

Our customer base is far and wide, anything from small ‘Mom and Pop’ stores all the way up to commercial businesses, the largest banks run our technology, government, healthcare, oil and gas, a pretty diverse spectrum of customers covering every vertical from a business point of view.

How is this technology likely to advance in the future?

vSAN technology was released in 2014  and we are up to 7,000 customers. We hope to, one day, get our 500,000 compute virtualisation customers using vSAN and our other products. We rely heavily on that 500,000 customer base, which continues to grow, to be an indicator of potential.

Nicola: Where we see this going from a more sustainability angle is that our goal is to couple this massive potential for efficiency with enabling our customers to improve their sustainability performance. We have set ourselves the goal of being a net positive company and we are looking beyond the horizon at what’s next and what we think is next is net positive, where the benefits of what we offer to the market outweight the negative impact that it takes to create them. We want to lead in this space by demonstrating that it’s possible to be net positive.

In our Global Impact Report that we put out last year, we put out this vision of net positive and what we are doing as a company to further that vision. There are three components to it. The first is leading with our products and what we can offer our customers. So from the product perspective, we’ve made a commitment to sustainable thinking in all our product releases. We are working on the concept of enabling a clean cloud and that goes back to the point of what we can do from the IT side with regard to radical efficiency and enabling customers to make that choice to shift clean cloud and reduce their footprint in IT. The other two components of our vision are what we are doing from an operational perspective and a people perspective.

We are joining that group of companies leading a commitment to renewable energy and setting ourselves a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. In alignment with our 100 percent renewables goal, we have a commitment to science-based targets around our own carbon emissions. The people side of this is how we engage our employees and enable the mind set to drive these goals in our own employee community and in our extended community.

[According to the Global Impact Report, 71 percent of VMware global energy came from renewable sources in 2015. Through the company’s purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (REC), and its headquarters in Palo Alto and Wenatchee data centre both being powered by renewable energy, VMware is able to offset 100 percent of its US Scope 2 emissions. The purchase of Renewable Energy Credits also expanded VMware’s commitment to clean energy with 60 million kWh of American Wind power in 2015. Since 2013, the company has purchased 27,440,655 kWh of green power for our LEED certified buildings at the VMware campus in Palo Alto. VMware also has an onsite solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that generates 960,000 kWh per year of clean power for its own use.]

Image: Mornay Van Der Walt and Nicola Acutt

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