Green data centers are one of the most exciting developments in energy efficiency. Setting up a green data center takes into account many of the same principles as building a home or business, but on a larger scale.
For companies looking to run a greener data center, plenty of challenges go beyond energy efficiency. But while it’s important to consider the big picture, you should keep sight of the small things too. These seemingly trivial changes can significantly impact your data center’s overall energy efficiency and, in turn, its carbon footprint and overall cost.
Energy efficiency in the data center is a top priority.
As world populations continue to grow and technology becomes more critical, the amount of data collected, stored and analyzed continues to increase at a staggering rate. With the amount of data increasing, it is necessary to find a way to keep all of this information efficient. Today, data centers are one of the most prominent applications for energy efficiency.
Data centers are responsible for powering the servers that are storing and processing the vast amounts of information we need to keep track of every day. The energy efficiency in these data centers is crucial because they use so much power.
Over the next decade, there will be an estimated 50 percent increase in servers used in data centers because of this exponential growth. To ensure that our energy resources can handle this predicted increase in demand, we must focus on increasing the efficiency of these data centers.
Data centers are a unique component of the modern economy—they consume tremendous amounts of electricity and generate large amounts of heat that require effective cooling systems. Data centers now account for 2% of total worldwide carbon emissions. However, these emissions could be reduced by improving energy efficiency in the data center.
Some energy is wasted even before it reaches the data center.
While the energy consumed by data centers is often reported as a percentage of the total electricity use in the United States, it is not insignificant. Around 2% of the total energy consumption in the U.S. goes toward running servers and cooling them down, which is about 2.2 trillion kWh every year (some sources say as high as 3% of total consumption).
Most of this is spent on air conditioning and other costs, including servers, powering their fans and cooling systems, cabling, and auxiliary equipment like UPS (uninterruptible power supply) units that keep servers alive when a blackout occurs.
Some of these numbers might sound absurd—servers don’t draw near enough power to account for that much energy use. The reason for this discrepancy is that data centers use much power-sucking equipment to keep all those servers from overheating: chiller systems and water coolers that run water through multiple stages of cooling before hitting the server itself, massive arrays of fans pointed at racks upon racks of equipment and more.
Consider this thing
The first step in making a data center more energy efficient is eliminating wasted energy at the source. This begins by understanding where and how much of your facility’s total energy is generated. Before taking steps to improve efficiency, you need to know how much power you’re using—and where it’s going.
Data centers are often located far from the power plants where their energy comes from, which can cause a lot of wasted energy. For example, a study found that the maximum distance between a data center and its source of power was 729 miles (1,175 km), which translates to 10%+ loss when factoring in transmission and distribution losses.
It’s not just a problem during the transmission and distribution stage. Even when that energy makes it to your data center, you’re still wasting up to 10 percent of it—and that’s just through physical inefficiencies!. According to a report published by the Uptime Institute, even if all of the servers in a data center are functioning at maximum efficiency and are running at full load (which is rare), there will still be up to 10 percent of wasted energy in a typical data center.
How you can improve your data center’s energy efficiency
As far as energy efficiency goes, there are several things we can do at home and in our offices to reduce our carbon footprint.
Cisco found that data center energy efficiency is negatively impacted by many factors, including:
- Inadequate embedded controls
- Inadequate power distribution
- Inadequate power systems design
- Inadequate power monitoring and management tools
To avoid these problems, Cisco found that data centers must be designed with a holistic view. It’s not enough to incorporate energy-efficient equipment. Instead, the whole environment must be optimized.
Hot aisle’ containment systems can also be used to reduce wasted energy through better control over ambient conditions at all levels of the data center. In such scenarios, cold air is stored directly behind raised floors in cabinets or shelves and pulled into hot ‘cold aisles’ alongside racks as needed via fans installed in the back of cabinets or shelves.
There are many ways to improve your data center’s energy efficiency, but it begins with knowing what your current energy usage is so you know how much improvement is needed.
Several steps can be taken to improve the efficiency of your data center—just a few examples include:
- Determine how efficiently your existing cooling system is currently operating.
- Assess the current state of your server room environment and make changes where possible.
- Discuss trends and needs and see if there are any ideas or concerns that you might not have considered
- Evaluate new technologies that could reduce your reliance on air conditioning and pollution output.
By focusing on energy efficiency and implementing innovative techniques like cloud computing and virtualization, companies can save money while making their operations more environmentally sound.
A well-designed cooling system can be one of the most effective ways to reduce energy consumption within a data center. Many different cooling systems can be used, the most common being absorption chiller and evaporative cooling systems.
Efficiency in Cooling Systems
Data centers have one of the highest energy costs, which means that any attempt to reduce energy consumption is beneficial in reducing the overall expenditure. Ideally, data centers should be powered with 100% renewable energy sources, but this is impossible. One way to ensure you take advantage of all the available resources is to ensure your cooling systems are running at maximum efficiency.
A typical data center’s cooling infrastructure includes the following:
- Many servers and other electrical equipment run 24 hours daily and consume large amounts of power.
- An HVAC system to control the temperature inside the facility and ensure that the equipment is not damaged by heat or humidity.
- Air-handling units (AHUs) distribute cool air evenly throughout the facility.
- Chilled water cooling systems chill water used by the HVAC system and keep it from becoming too warm as it travels through pipes.
- Chillers and other equipment generate chilled water, usually using some chemical refrigerants such as Freon or ammonia.
- The chilled water supply network distributes chilled water to AHUs throughout the facility, runs cold water through hot-aisle containment ventilation ducts within the racks, and supplies cold air for hot-aisle containment cooling.
Depending on your type of system, it will have its advantages and disadvantages. In general, an evaporative cooling system will consume less than half as much electricity as an absorption chiller would for a given amount of reduction in temperature. This makes evaporative cooling systems a better choice for extensive facilities where power consumption must be minimized at all costs. However, because it consumes less electricity, an evaporative cooling system also requires more water than an absorption chiller would use for the same cooling power (they both use water differently.
Read more: Optimizing Data Center Airflow and Reconfiguring CRAC
The most critical factor in any cooling system is the air itself. Data centers need cool air—around 60 degrees Fahrenheit—to prevent overheating and subsequent failure in their hardware. But there are many steps you can take to ensure that this cool air remains consistent and high-quality throughout the entire year.
Data centers can be massive energy consumers, accounting for 10 percent of all electricity used in the United States. These centers are being built to save money in areas with access to cheap and abundant power sources, like coal or natural gas power plants. These power plants are often not as efficient as they could be, requiring more energy to produce the same amount of power than other plants. This is a problem because the power produced by these plants contributes to the global greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
Many data center operators are turning to renewable energy sources (like solar, wind, and hydroelectric) to meet their energy demands. This can be expensive, but some benefits include reducing your carbon footprint and gaining kudos from environmental advocacy groups. If you invest in clean energy sources for your data center, it’s crucial to ensure that your infrastructure is flexible enough for changes in the future.
Data centers need to be more efficient and sustainable than ever before if we want them to exist for the next 50 years or longer, which means we have plenty of work ahead of us.