Data Center Design Finally Addresses Major Sources of Wasted Energy

by | Jun 22, 2011

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Energy is today the largest variable IT cost for large enterprises. And with data centers accounting for close to 1.5% of electricity consumption in the U.S., increasing energy efficiency in the data center is becoming a strategic business imperative.

Traditionally data centers have been measured based on their IT performance alone and rated on uptime. Both uptime or availability, and efficiency as measured by energy consumption, must be addressed together.

Steeply climbing demand for computing resources, rising rack densities, and increased power and cooling requirements are exposing inflexible, un-scalable designs, and driving demand for more energy. We can no longer afford to build our way out of this demand-driven need simply by adding space or buying more power.

In today’s best case examples of high-efficiency data centers, IT, energy efficiency innovations and facilities infrastructure are merging to reduce total energy consumption by a whopping one-third to one half. For large data centers that level of reduction can translate into millions of dollars saved per year in operating expenses.

Reducing Waste While Increasing Reliability

As wholesale data center providers attack waste and boost reliability, expect more campus-scale projects with: dedicated substations and higher voltage distribution from the substation to the data center floor; elimination of PDUs; redundant backup generator power with 2N electrical configurations to the floor; high efficiency UPS units; and pre-provisioning of data centers for additional load (vertical scalability) including skid-mounted generators and UPS and pre-provisioned switch gear.

New green data centers and advanced data center management require cooperation across organizational silos, including IT, facilities, hardware, software and other business functions. Until IT and facilities break out of their operational silos and the CIO understands the energy implications of IT decisions, businesses will not make real advances in managing and reducing enterprise energy use.

Enterprises that continue to operate or lease traditional data center space (where only about half the electricity entering the building is used to power and cool the data center facility), put themselves at a competitive disadvantage. They pay significantly more for the operation of every server. Increasingly what is good for business is good for the environment, and vice versa.

So how do corporations respond to the ongoing explosion in demand for compute power while addressing the need to hold — or better still — reduce costs and reduce their carbon footprint?

After the energy consumed directly by the servers, routers and switches within a data center, power distribution and cooling provide the largest opportunities to save energy.

New, high efficiency data centers are bringing power closer to the data center at utility distribution 12 kV to 34.5 kW. Stepping it down close to 480 V conditioned power loads results in less loss of power.

Cooling is the other major area where energy savings are being achieved. Where geography and climate permit, data center owners and operators are taking advantage of free cooling via airside and water side economization. Supplementing this form of cooling with chillers only in hot months and operating the data center at higher overall temperatures, is also positively impacting energy consumption.

You can therefore expect to see more data center customization based on location, including climate, humidity and air and water quality.  Efficient data centers will be designed for the optimum use of both scarce and plentiful local resources, instead of the “one design fits all” approach common today.

Recent advancements in specialized mechanical architectures will optimize the flow of air and enable granular visibility and control of cooling with real-time data and power metering. Environmental and energy managers will have more visibility into waste than ever before.

With these electrical, mechanical and architectural innovations large-scale wholesale data centers are matching or closely approaching the best Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) numbers for enterprise-owned data centers by the likes of Facebook and Google.

Upgrading, Consolidating or… Leasing

By identifying the components of high efficiency data centers and the options, and by looking at metrics such as PUE plus Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) which looks at the carbon emissions associated with operating a data center (not its construction) and Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) which measures how efficiently a data center is using water, businesses can make informed decisions about whether their existing data center(s) can or should be upgraded.

According to IDC (2010) the average data center in the U.S. is 12 years old, meaning it cannot be upgraded economically because of inadequate electrical systems and other physical and site limitations. A site’s power distribution features for example, are not something that a company can readily go back and revise to save energy.

Every business will need to assess for itself the difference that leasing a more efficient building could make compared with owning an older building that is wasting increasing amounts of power and cooling every year as power demands increase.

If it is not possible to upgrade a data center, the build/lease question should be addressed.

What is the CAPEX involved in building or expanding data center capacity and what is the lost opportunity cost in time and potential unrealized return in making a decision to build? What will be the ongoing OPEX to run the new data center and what is the TCO over the 10-15 year lifespan of a modern, optimized data center that offers more IT capacity per kW?

What are the costs, advantages and others considerations of leasing data center space?

The flexibility to instantly access secure space and scale economies with operational service levels as your needs evolve has real business value. So does the ability to reduce operating costs while maintaining ownership and control of your IT assets.

Advanced “green” data centers, whether they are owned or leased, offer significant environmental benefits and measureable cost savings. For example, a 20k square foot space in an advanced data center can reduce power and cooling by more than $1 million per year. That is just good business.

Jim Trout is the CEO of Vantage Data Centers, a wholesale data center provider focused on driving increased efficiencies and energy use reduction through innovation in electro-mechanical systems and architecture design. Prior to Vantage Jim was Managing Director at Proferian, SVP – Portfolio & Technical Operations at Digital Realty Trust, and President at CRG West (a.k.a. Coresite). He can be reach at [email protected].

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