When you think about data centers, you think technology and leading edge. So you might be surprised to learn that except for big names like Google and Facebook, typical data centers have yet to embrace energy efficiency practices.
Data centers provide a substantial energy drain — Between 2005 and 2010, electricity used by data centers worldwide increased by 56%, accounting for between 1.1% and 1.5% of total electricity use. In the U.S., the increase was about 36%, accounting for between 1.7% to 2.2% (Growth in Data Center Electricity Use 2005 to 2010). And, data centers are predicted to consume 15% of the world’s energy by 2020 (EPA Report 2007).
According to a recent FCW article, although data center leaders have heeded the efficiency message, other facilities have yet to implement techniques on a widespread basis.
“A lot of federal and private industry facilities have been slow to adopt the changes that some of the big players have done,” said William Tschudi, leader of the High Tech and Industrial Systems Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Tschudi’s group was recently designated the Energy Department’s Center of Expertise for energy efficiency in data centers. Part of the center’s mission is to provide tools, best practices and technologies to help federal agencies improve their energy efficiency.
The good news is, federal regulations are starting to target the issue of data center power drain. In March, the House passed the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act, which calls for federal agencies to increase the energy efficiency of the data centers they operate. And, the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (passed in February) tasks federal CIOs with creating data center optimization plans that take energy use into account.
The Energy Department has also issued a Better Building Challenge to promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings and a Better Plants Challenge for the industrial sector. The DOE is working to launch a similar data center challenge program as well.
Industry standards are also adjusting to accommodate energy efficiency opportunities. ASHRAE, a global organization credited with establishing de facto thermal standards for data centers has raised the climate threshold. Although 68 degrees Fahrenheit was once the norm, they now recommend 80.6 degrees for enterprise servers and 89.6 for storage. Humidity recommendations now range from 60% to 80%.
Innovations for Data Center Efficiency
This shift in legislation and industry guidelines have opened up opportunities for new and exciting energy efficient methods for data centers.
Cooling is a main cause of a data center’s energy consumption. Traditionally, air conditioning systems have worked in conjunction with water-based chillers to beat the heat in computer rooms. But recent innovations have given water a more direct role in replacing or supplementing air conditioning.
Evaporative or Free Cooling involves towers that use outdoor air to cool water that circulates back into the data center to remove the heat from computing equipment. Although water is effective for energy efficient cooling, it can be a scare resource. So there are also cooling systems being created using wastewater and reclaimed water as well.
Immersion Cooling is another innovation for water challenged areas of the country. This is where processors are submerged in tanks filled with non-conducive fluid. It doesn’t need a special environment such as a raised floor and doesn’t generate the noise associated with fan-based air cooling.
Another big energy drain is networking – which takes up 10% to 20% of a data center’s energy consumption. Grants are being awarded to conduct energy research in large data center communication networks. This includes developing a new protocol that can be built into a hardware device that would adjust itself to the communications distance to minimize energy use.
Simple Steps to Take Today
Luckily, data centers don’t have to wait for these innovations, or invest a lot of money or resources to save energy and reduce downtime. There are several no- and low-cost measures that can be implemented now that have dramatic energy saving potential including:
- Raising the computer room temperature from 68 or 69 degrees to 72 or 73 degrees can make a huge difference in energy costs
- Organizing the network of cables under a raised floor promotes better air flow and keeps the room cooler
- Consolidating many servers to one can reduce energy use by up to 20%
- Using blanking panels on unused racks prevents hot air from being sucked back into the rack and keeps room temperature lower
- Segregating hot and cold air improves efficiency and reduces downtime because hot air can be confined so it won’t create issues for equipment and cold air can be circulated with less air pressure
- Eliminate power conversion using DC instead of AC to reduce energy intake and improve reliability
Click here to read the complete FCW article. And for more on the cost of data center inefficiency and tips for reducing downtime and saving energy, check out ABM’s “Did You Know? Data Centers“ Infographic.