In my role in Cisco Services, I’m more interested in the challenges of technology adoption and deployment than I am in speeds and feeds, statistics and technology fads.  I actively seek out case studies where technology goes wrong – admittedly most of these examples turn out to be issues around introducing and managing the technology, rather than the technology itself.  So I have to admit, I was fascinated by a recent  eWeek article (full details below) which discussed the huge proportion – the report uncovers evidence of up to 30%!! – of (physical) servers in enterprise data centers that are typically running doing nothing!!  Yes – up to 30% – even in these days of virtualization!


How Many Idle and Comatose Servers Do You Have?!
How Many Idle and Comatose Servers Do You Have?!

Yes, even in your data center, it’s probably a safe bet to say that you have some servers that are not doing that much information processing today!  In this part 1 of my blog, I’ll discuss the costs – obvious and hidden – of the idle server challenge.  And next week I’ll discuss why this happens and what you could and indeed should do about it!

The eWeek article, entitled “30 Percent of Servers Worldwide Sit Idle”, is based upon research performed by Stanford University in conjunction with the Anthesis Group – you can find their full report here.  What is particularly astounding is that they define idea of “comatose” servers as “those in the sample that have delivered no information or compute services in 6 months or more”.  Idle for at least 6 months?!  Wow!

The Costs: The Obvious and the Hidden

Some of the costs of idle servers are obvious: power and space.  Especially with older servers, power costs can mount up.  As an aside, I attended a conference a while back where a case study was presented where the IT organization had a habit (as many do) of re-purposing older servers to less demanding tasks – so their print servers were typically 5+ years old. Consequently a disproportionately high portion of their power budget was consumed by the small number of power hungry and old servers dedicated to the low value task of printing!

Space is another obvious issue – and the implications for facility design, hot/cold isle design and so on.  Some companies will be planning new data center builds and extensions unknowingly to hold some idle servers!


One major “hidden” cost not highlighted in the report above is that of installed but unused licensed software products.  In cases that I’ve heard from our Cisco Services consultants and partners, it’s not uncommon to find databases and software apps installed on a server for, say, a trial or a test … and after the testing is finished, it remains there, and before long, it’s forgotten with IT staff being too scared to touch these servers in case they break some important app!  Yet the software applications remain installed, you may end up paying additional software license fees (especially if you have “unlimited” licensing agreements), and almost certainly you will be paying software technical support fees … for software that you no longer use … burning power on idle servers … and probably also taking up space you are paying rent for!

And let’s face it, we are all often too busy with developing next year’s plan and executing on priority initiates for today, that we don’t get time to do all those “tidy up” actions we know should be executed upon.

More Next Week ….

To wrap up for this week, the issue of idle servers in your data center is almost certainly costing you significantly.  Look out for my blog over the next week or so when I will discuss why this happens and what you can do about this.  And if you can wait to get started, get in touch and Cisco Services can help you making savings sooner. Contact me on Twitter if you need to start saving!

PS: You can find Part 2 here


Stephen Speirs

SP Product Management

Cisco Customer Experience (CX)