The Stack Archive

The rise of the zombie server

Mon 22 Jun 2015

New research has revealed that zombie computer servers are wasting huge amounts of energy worldwide, with as many as 10mn servers lying idle and consuming energy despite not delivering any services for at least six months.

The recent report [PDF] from consulting firm Anthesis Group suggests that around $30bn (approx. £19bn) in server capital is sitting comatose. The findings revealed that as many as one third of servers housed in U.S. data centres are ‘zombies’ and are no longer being used for any online activity or business transactions.

The analysis also showed that up to 3.6mn of the 12mn American servers found in-house are abandoned by business users but are still powered continually as no one is aware that they are not in use and do not want to risk turning them off.

The study was conducted by a team led by Stanford University research fellow Jonathan Koomey and Anthesis Group partner Jon Taylor. It was based on data provided by efficiency software provider TSO Logic, reaching a sample of nearly 4,000 physical servers.

In the research paper the duo explained that on average servers in business data centres use no more than six per cent of their maximum capacity over a year period.

Koomey argued that the high number of zombie servers highlights that data centres are being poorly managed and operated. “The existence of so many comatose servers is a clear indication that the ways IT resources in enterprises are designed, built, provisioned, and operated need to change. The needed changes are not primarily technical, but revolve instead around management practices, information flows, and incentives,” he wrote.

The research fellow hopes to continue his research with TSO Logic to produce ongoing analysis with larger sets of data, and with a special focus on comparing virtualised and non-virtualised environments.

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