Is Your Data Center Green?

I first spoke about energy conservation in data centers at a conference in the spring of 2001. It was a disaster. Nobody cared. Energy was cheap, and reliability trumped everything. Eight years later, the “green data center” is the hot topic.In many parts of the country, electric rates have double or tripled. The costs to own and operate data centers are hitting the bottom lines of companies in a big way. Most companies are taking steps to reduce their data centers’ energy use.There are several avenues to take to reduce energy consumption in a data center: hardware, software and the power and cooling plant.Hardware: Computer manufacturers are making more efficient products. From the power supply to the processor, the next generation of computers is more energy efficient than before.Software: Server virtualization allows for one new server to replace as many as 10 current servers. Virtualization, combined with new energy-efficient hardware, can have a significant impact on energy savings.Power and Cooling Plant: This one requires a little more explanation. Back in the day, saving energy and providing a reliable data center were mutually exclusive. Why was this so? Quite simply, there was no reward mechanism to save energy, and oftentimes a huge penalty, perhaps a pink slip, for an outage. For many companies, this is still true. Therefore, energy-efficient power and cooling plants need to be passive.The biggest improvements in efficiency are modern, uninterruptable power supply (UPS) systems. Efficiencies have improved from the low 80 percent range to as high as 95 percent. Significant efficiency gains are also available with new cooling plants. High-efficiency chilled water plants with water-side and air-side economizer cycles are options for cooling your data center. There is no cookie-cutter solution to powering and cooling your data center. You’ll need to investigate many variables–including utility rates, available space for new systems and climate—and may want to consult with a professional proficient in data center design.R. Stephen Spinazzola, PE, LEED® AP, is the vice president in charge of the Applied Technology Group at architecture and engineering firm RTKL.