Zombie Servers- Hunting down the lost capital

By Anthesis Group Team

May 15, 2017

In the latest installment of our series on Comatose Servers, we hear from Jon Taylor Partner at the Anthesis Group, on the results of his latest research.

In 2015 in partnership with Jonathan Koomey we published leading research that found that 30% of servers are sitting comatose (they showed no signs of useful compute activity for 6 months or more) resulting in more than $30 billion of data center capital sitting idle. Not surprisingly this research received wide spread news coverage,  including headlines such as “Millions of ghost data centre servers hold $30bn profit” (CBR, June 2015) “Pull the plug on comatose servers to save money and the planet” (Tech Republic, June 2015).

The findings of the 2015 report implied that there were about 10 million zombie or comatose servers worldwide-including standalone servers and host servers in virtual environments. The findings supported previous research performed by the Uptime Institute, which also found that around 30 % of servers were unused, with the 10 million estimated zombie servers translating into at least $30 billion in data center capital sitting idle globally (assuming an average server cost of $3,000 while ignoring infrastructure capital costs as well as operating costs).

Two years on the data set from which the original findings were drawn has grown from 4,000 physical servers to more than 16,000 physical servers and additional information on 32,000 virtual machines (VM) running on hypervisors. The new findings show improvements, as well as an alarming wake-up call.

On the upside: when an enterprise acted to remove physical zombie servers when presented with evidence of the problem’s magnitude, they were able to reduce the amount from 30 percent to eight percent in just one year. On the downside: new data show that some 30 percent of VMs are zombies, demonstrating that the same discovery, measurement, and management challenges that apply to physical servers also apply to VMs.

The study confirms that the issue is still not being adequately addressed. New data indicates that one quarter to one third of data center investments are tied up with zombie servers, both physical and virtual. Virtualization without improved measurement technologies and altered institutional practices is not a panacea. Without visibility into the scale of these wasted resources the problem will continue to challenge the data center industry.

While few companies can identify them, zombie servers pose a costly problem for data centers. The ability to eliminate them can result in considerable capital and operational savings when one takes into account resources needlessly wasted on power, hardware, licenses maintenance, staffing and floor space, It can also improve data center security, since zombie servers are much less likely to have security updates.

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