Reducing Data Center Power Consumption: Steps to Minimize Your Facility’s Carbon Footprint

by | Mar 26, 2012

Commercial data centers are at the forefront of the growing and highly intense public debate over power consumption and carbon footprints. By assuming responsibility for corporate customers’ IT infrastructure and network operations, their services effectively reduce those companies’ own power consumption and carbon footprint. Conversely, by operating numerous networks on an outsourced basis, a data center’s power consumption and carbon footprint, without checks and balances, can be enormous.

Is this a Catch 22, or “robbing Peter to pay Paul” scenario? Not necessarily. Data centers which incorporate power saving technologies in conjunction with sensible and efficient operating procedures can actually become crusaders of the sustainability vanguard, contributing to a sizeable overall decrease in the nation’s industrial carbon footprint.

Environmentally conscious operators are also uniquely positioned to educate actual and potential client companies about a data center’s full value proposition. Beyond their ability to deliver redundant and reliable critical power, cooling and network services, environmentally responsible data center service providers deliver these for customers in ways that minimize the negative impact to planet Earth.

Another bonus: decreased power consumption is also healthy for bottom line profitability through lower operating costs.

A commonly misplaced perception has it that lowering carbon footprints, in a data center or in any commercial building, requires the upfront purchase and implementation of highly expensive technology. Not true. Simply operating physical plants more efficiently, such as through proper insulation against Arizona heat, Alaska cold and everything in-between, goes a long way in helping data centers demonstrate a real and measurable commitment to the environment, instead of simply giving the appearance of good corporate citizenship.

Along with addressing local climate, to be truly effective a data center’s green initiative must address electrical device operating conditions and temperature control within varying building areas or zones. For example, facilities in cold weather climates can leverage “free cooling” systems that capture and uses outside air.

In extremely arid geographic areas, evaporative cooling can supplement electric-powered mechanical cooling on the hottest days. Evaporative cooling uses roughly 10 percent of the power of traditional electrical systems, resulting in a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.3 at these facilities.

Though impressive, without other highly measurable results the mere mention of the term “green” can actually do more to harm than good. Environmental groups challenging data centers claims can inadvertently supply ammunition to naysayers unconvinced about the need for, and the effectiveness of green initiatives, in general.

It’s critically important for data center managers to load greening strategies with meat, painstakingly evaluating not only building insulation but every piece of technology involved in managing clients’ IT infrastructure from computer hardware “on down.” Some of the most important elements include Energy Star-rated or otherwise highly efficient power, cooling and lighting systems.

The most advanced data centers operate as self-contained ecosystems which, by promoting lower energy consumption and operating costs, inspire in a growing number of states and municipalities incentives in the form of lower tax rates and rebates. Again, technology holds the key to achieving true power savings and a smaller carbon footprint.

Consider how the following elements lower data center power consumption while shrinking carbon footprints:

Energy Star-rated Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems that deliver more than 95 percent efficiencies at partial loads. The single largest power consumer in a data center has always been the UPS. Energy Star-rated, and an on-line battery based UPS system in areas where utilities provide high enough power quality can significantly lower these costs.

–Hot or cold aisle containment. Containing hot air removed from servers and cold air supplied to them increases efficiency and reduces power consumption. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations help to contain airflow, thereby optimizing efficiency.

–LED lighting in a data center environment has been demonstrated to cut power use by as much as 80 percent, as compared to other higher efficiency systems.

–In hot climates, Energy Star-rated Ethylene Propylene Diene Terpolymer (EPDM) roofs reflect rather than absorb solar heat, lowering building cooling requirements.

–400/230 Volt, Three-Phase electrical distribution systems, in place of standard 480/208 Volt Single Phase systems, curtail the amount of power lost to heat during voltage transformation. These three-phase circuits require fewer power circuits, resulting in lower power usage.

–AC motor and belt-driven fans use draw more power than Electrically Commutated (EC), or so-called plug fans that use direct drive motors connected to Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs). VFDs regulate pumps and blowers, so that they operate at variable, often lower speeds depending on temperature conditions.

–High-efficiency HVAC that heat and cool in non-critical data center areas, which don’t require re-heating and humidification.

–Centralized humidification systems positioned outside of Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) units use a fraction of the power required by steam or IR humidifiers.

Increasing power costs, limited resources and growing environmental concerns present an irrefutable case for data center operators to take the necessary steps to reduce consumption. An increasing number of cost-effective technologies are available to help them attain this goal. Those that work with customers will reach it faster, benefiting both their business partners and society at-large.

Tom Stimmel is director of operations for CoreLink Data Centers. In this role, Tom is responsible for all company operations including all data center personnel. Prior to CoreLink, Tom was the general manager of Dataside in Las Vegas, NV (now ViaWest) a facilities-based colocation company. Tom’s previous experience also includes leadership positions with Qwest, Citizens, WorldCom and MCI all of which are leading national providers of network services and managed computer data center services. He can be reached at

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