Greening the Data Center

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock PhotosManaging a data center’s growth used to be relatively simple: as demands on the data center increased, the company directed more resources at the problems. This frequently meant increasing the number of servers and storage devices in the data center.

That approach, however, has two key drawbacks. Eventually, the data center will exceed its physical space; expanding it would require either significant capital expenditures to purchase a new data center or significant operating costs to rent one. In addition, each new server or unit storage also requires additional cooling and ventilation, both of which consume more power and increase the data center and the company’s environmental footprint.

What, then, is the best strategy for managing a data center? The trick is to increase its efficiency. This will ensure that the data center is environmentally sound and that it is poised for future growth. A more efficient data center consumes fewer resources, strips out waste, and leaves room for future expansion.

The process of finding efficiency starts with measuring the data center’s current power utilization.

Power Usage Effectiveness Ratio

Dividing the power consumed by a data center’s IT equipment into the total power that it consumes yields the power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio. For example, a data center that consumes 800 kilowatts of power and has IT equipment that draws 350 kilowatts has a PUE of 2.29. In a perfect world, a data center would have a PUE of 1.0; this would indicate that all of its power is going to IT equipment. However, in reality, lighting, cooling and other power loads all reduce PUEs. Typical data centers have a PUE of 2.0. When IT equipment that is powered on but not being used is included, this wasted power increases the data center PUE to about 3.0.

Achieving Greater Efficiency

Throwing money at the problem of an overtaxed data center by purchasing more air conditioning units might allow greater density, but it does not increase a data center’s efficiency. Companies that squeeze more effectiveness out of an existing data center grow more sustainably.

How can companies allow for more growth with the same power and cooling resources? Consider these strategies:

  1. Transition multiple single-core servers into fewer multi-core servers. Not only are multi-core chips typically more efficient per core than single core chips, but consolidating more processing power into a single server eliminates the need to drive additional support systems.
  2. Leverage virtualization to increase the performance of each CPU chip; this reduces the total number of CPU cores needed for the data center.
  3. Upgrade to newer storage servers that have greater data density and better performance.
  4. Use hot aisle containment systems or upgrade the insulation in existing hot aisle containment systems to separate the hot air being exhausted from IT equipment from cool air being brought to their intakes. This maximizes the effectiveness of the data center’s cooling equipment.

Measuring and managing data center efficiency doesn’t just produce environmental benefits. It also reduces capital and operating costs and allows a data center to provide more processing cycles and more storage with less expenditure.

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