Tag Archives: environment

The Lean, Green, Virtualized Machine

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in November of 2008.
I normally try to avoid being preachy, but this is too good a bandwagon to stay off of. If you make decisions about technology, at your organization, as a board member, or in your home, then you should decide to green your IT. This is socially beneficial action that you can take with all sorts of side benefits, such as cost savings and further efficiencies. And it’s not so much of a new project to take on as it is a set of guidelines and practices to apply to your current plan. Even if my day job wasn’t at an organization dedicated to defending our planet, I’d still be writing this post, I’m certain.I’ve heard a few reports that server rooms can output 50% or more of a company’s entire energy; PC Magazine puts them at 30-40% on average. If you work for an organization of 50 people or more, then you should look at this metric: how many servers did you have in 2000; how many do you have now? If the volume hasn’t doubled, at least, then you’re the exception to a very bloated rule. We used to pile multiple applications and services onto each server, but the model for the last decade or so has been one server per database, application, or function. This has resulted in a boom of power usage and inefficiency. Another metric that’s been quoted to me by IDC, the IT research group, is that, on average, we use 10% of any given server’s processing power. So the server sits there humming 24/7, outputting carbons and ticking up our power bills.

So what is Green IT? A bunch of things, some very geeky, some common sense. As you plan for your technology upgrades, here are some things that you can consider:

1. Energy-Saving Systems. Dell, HP and the major vendors all sell systems with energy-saving architecture. Sometimes they cost a little more, but that cost should be offset by savings on the power bills. Look for free software and other programs that will help users manage and automate the power output of their stations.

2. Hosted Applications. When it makes sense, let someone else host your software. The scale of their operation will insure that the resources supporting your application are far more refined than a dedicated server in your building.

3. Green Hosting. Don’t settle for any host – if you have a hosting service for your web site, ask them if they employ solar power or other alternative technologies to keep their servers powered. Check out some of the green hosting services referenced here at Idealware.

4. Server Virtualization. And if, like me, you have a room packed with servers, virtualize. Virtualization is a geeky concept, but it’s one that you should understand. Computer operating system software, such as Windows and Linux, is designed to speak to a computer’s hardware and translate the high-level activities we perform to machine code that the computer’s processor can understand. When you install Windows or Linux, the installation process identifies the particular hardware on your system–the type of processor, brand of graphics card, number of USB ports–and configures the operating system to work with your particular devices.

Virtualization is technology that sits in the middle, providing a generic hardware interface for the operating system to speak with. Why? Because, once the operating system is speaking to something generic, it no longer cares what hardware it’s actually installed on. So you can install your Windows 2003 server on one system. Then, if a component fails, you can copy that server to another system, even if it’s radically different – say, a Mac – and it will still boot up and run. More to the point, you can boot up multiple virtual servers on one actual computer (assuming it has sufficient RAM and processing power).

A virtual server is, basically, a file. Pure and simple: one large file that the computer opens up and runs. While running, you can install programs, create documents, change your wallpaper and tweak your settings. When you shut down the server, it will retain all of your changes in the file. You can back that file up. You can copy it to another server and run it while you upgrade components on it’s home server, so that your users don’t lose access during the upgrade. And you can perform the upgrade at 1:00 in the afternoon, instead of 1:00 in the morning.

So, this isn’t just cool. This is revolutionary. Need a new server to test an application? Well, don’t buy a new machine. Throw a virtualized server on an existing machine.

Don’t want to mess with installing Windows server again? Keep a virtualized, bare bones server file (VM) around and use it as a template.

Don’t want to install it in the first place? Google “Windows Server VM”. There are pre-configured virtual machines for every operating system made available for download.

Want to dramatically reduce the number of computers in your server room, thereby maximizing the power usage of the remaining systems? Develop a virtualization strategy as part of our technology plan.

This is just the surface of the benefits of virtualization. There are some concerns and gotchas, too, that need to be considered, and I’ll be blogging more about it.

But the short story is that we have great tools and opportunities to make our systems more supportive of our environment, curbing the global warming crisis one server room at a time. Unlike a lot of these propositions, this one comes with cost reductions and efficiencies built-in. It’s an opportunity to, once in place, lighten your workload, strengthen your backup strategy, reduce your expenses on hardware and energy, and, well — save the world.

About the new job

So, I think it’s safe to let everyone know that I start a new gig as IT Director at Earthjustice this month. For those of you who don’t know, Earthjustice is a law firm dedicated to protecting natural resources and the environment. Originally founded as the legal arm of the Sierra Club, they now do advocacy and litigation in defense of the planet. They are an international firm with the awesome tagline “because the earth needs a good lawyer”. My role there is a strategic one — in addition to managing the IT Department, I’ll be looking at ways that we can decentralize the technology platform so it can better support the global operation. This is a challenge that I know I’ll enjoy, and bring a good perspective to.

It’s funny how many connections I had to this organization prior. First, the Communications Director there is a dear friend of mine who used to work for me at Goodwill. When they asked for my references, I had to explain that she had been on the list for years. Second, the consultant they were working with is a friend of mine through NTEN, and he had actually introduced me to my predecessor there last year, who gave me a heads up about the job.

But the connections are even deeper. My first “real” job (discarding the ten years I spent working in restaurants and playing in bands in Boston in the late seventies/early eighties) was with a small law firm in SF that had spun off from a larger firm called Lillick & Charles. My second job, where I was first promoted to the IT Director role, was with Lillick & Charles (since merged with giant firm Nixon Peabody). I took a very intentional detour after that out of the for-profit world and to Goodwill. Earthjustice, oddly enough, was founded by a couple of Partners from Lillick & Charles. So it’s a small world I work in.

What happened?

Well, work happened, and I have to admit that I am not the driven blogger who can maintain a steady flow of posts while working full-time. I’ve been doing a consulting/contracting gig in San Jose that not only keeps me busy, but takes huge chunks out of my day for the commute, so my attention to Techcafeteria has suffered unduly. I’ll be wrapping up the work in San Jose and transitioning to a new, full-time position over the next month or two, returning to the ranks of Non-Profit IT Directors that I didn’t imagine I’d stay out of for long. More on that position later – I’ve been asked to keep it under wraps for a week or so.

So I’ll be closing the consulting services section of Techcafeteria, but I’ll be keeping the website going as time affords. It’s been an interesting year for me, so far. From 1986 until 2007, I held three jobs. I stayed at each one for at least six years, and I secured the next one before leaving the prior. I haven’t been unemployed (aka self-employed) for over two decades. But I have a bit of a self-imposed challenge – I want a job with deep business and technology challenges, at an organization with a worthwhile mission, at a pay scale that, while not extravagant, is enough to support my family living in the Bay Area, where my partner spends most of her time homeschooling our son. Those opportunities aren’t a dime a dozen. I reached a point early in the year where I was downright desperate to leave the job that I was at (a long story that I have no intention of relating here!), and applied at some for-profit companies. I think I sabotaged myself in the interviews, because it eventually became clear to me that having day to day work that combats social or environmental injustice is a personal requirement of mine. My partner supports this — she was proud to tell people that I worked for Goodwill and she’s even more excited about my new gig, which sports a killer tagline. So setting up the consulting practice was — and probably will be again — a means of staying solvent while I was very picky about what I applied for.

One job that I pursued was with an org called the Pachamama Alliance. They are a fascinating group of people. Their story is that the indigenous people of Ecuador put out a call for help to the Western World as they saw the earth and their culture being destroyed by the clearing of the rainforests. The group forming Pachamama answered that call, and their mission is to “change the dream of the western world” into one that is in harmony with nature, as opposed to dominance and disrespect of it. They maintain that environmental injustice and social injustice are tied at the knees – where you find one, you’ll find the other. For those of you who saw Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, you’ll recall the fact that the main water source for the Sudan dried up a few years ago. That bit of trivia puts the subsequent genocide in Darfur in an interesting perspective. Pachamama has adopted Gore’s tactics with a multimedia presentation that both educates and inspires people to adopt a more sustainable dream. It’s a timely movement, as it’s becoming clear to all of us that our current rate of consumption of natural resources is having dramatic impacts on the environment. Pachamama spreads the word by training volunteers to share the presentation. Well worth checking out.

In other news, I’m hard at work on an article for Idealware that attempts to deflate all of this big talk about APIs and put it in terms that anyone can use to understand why they might want to migrate data and how they might do it. I’m also talking with my friends at NTEN about doing a webinar on the best practices for rolling out CRM at a non-profit. As long-time blog readers have probably picked up, I consider Constituent Relationship Management software to be the type of technology that, deployed correctly, completely alters the way a business is run. It’s not just about maintaining business relationships and tracking donors – it’s about working collaboratively and breaking down the silos of business relationships and data. So installing the software (if software even needs to be installed) is the least of it, and data migration is just a chore. But aligning business strategy to CRM technology is the real challenge.

So, I’ll post next week about my new gig, and look forward to a long life for Techcafeteria as a resource on non-profit technology, with less of the hawking of services.

Managing to have a disaster

As many a blogger has noted, Katrina’s impact on the levees safeguarding New Orleans was an accident not just waiting to happen, but one that makes Bush’s dismissal of the “Al-Queda will attack on U.S. Soil” briefing almost insignificant by comparison. A lot of good writing on this is over at The Huffington Post , the short story being that FEMA has been systematically gutted to free up war-mongering funds, and, as with most of the Federal Government, has been managed by Bush cronies with no actual experience or qualifications for their posts. The media has not ignored this one – newspapers have been stating in quite certain terms that the utter destruction of New Orleans is a hurricane away for the last four years. The excellent timeline leading up to the catastrophe is here in the Political Animal blog.

On a related note. Molly Ivins tells this story¬†about John Bolton’s hard-headed grandstanding at the U.N.:

“Britain is leading a reform effort already endorsed by 175 other countries. Britain, which used to be our ally, has put forth a concise document containing a plan for reforming the U.N. and carrying forward with its goals to eradicate poverty. Bolton has proposed 750 changes in Britain’s 36-page draft plan. One of his proposals is to delete the phrase “respect for nature” from a set of core values that supposedly unites the nations of the world: respect for human rights, freedom, equality, tolerance, multilateralism and respect for nature. The phrase “respect for nature” does not commit the U.S. to any legal or financial obligation. Bolton just doesn’t like it.”

So, did Bolton bring Katrina down on us by dissing nature? Maybe Pat Robertson, an expert in this sort of thing, can make a ruling…

Okay, so even more bizarre – not an hour after making the poor taste joke above, I read a blog entry reporting that FEMA’s recommended list of donation sites features Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing. How politically questionable is that?!