Building a More Efficient Data Center

Virtualization, cold aisle containment and economizers are just three of the ways data centers can reduce their power consumption.

In data centers around the world, CIOs and CTOs are performing the ultimate IT balancing act. They’re working to provide continuous, quality services for their business while trying to be as cost- and energy-efficient as possible. For them, going green is more than just being eco-friendly. Due to the increasing data demands, sustainability is now a budget necessity.

Taking a new approach to data center infrastructure offers a variety of benefits, with lower expenses topping the list. Making a data center more efficient is an extensive process that will require ongoing efforts to ensure your organization reaches a balance between performance and cost.

Growing Data Needs, Growing Power Demands

Just as the brain consumes more energy than any other organ in the human body, a data center is the biggest source of consumption within many companies. A room packed with servers requires a great deal of energy both to operate and for cooling purposes.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, data centers used 91 billion kilowatt hours of power in 2013 and are currently on target to reach 140 kilowatt hours by 2020. Part of this increasing power usage isn’t just from growing demand but from inefficient systems. The NRDC notes that if U.S. companies were to reduce their energy consumption by only 40 percent, the overall savings would add up to over $3 billion. In a survey on data center trends, construction firm and real estate developer Mortenson discovered that energy efficiency is the one thing data center owners would most like to change about their facilities.

Although the financial benefits are clear, a path to greater efficiency is a little trickier. Even when an energy-wasting source has been identified, making changes isn’t easy, especially when an infrastructure has been in place for years. Being able to gain some new efficiencies depends on first narrowing down where improvements can be made.

Key Efficiency Solutions

If a data center is already experiencing some increases in its energy spending, that isn’t a trend that will be going away. Being able to contend with these growing costs requires a plan for controlling energy spending, with a focus on three areas that can make a major difference in electricity costs and overall efficiency:

  • Virtualization: The arrival of virtualization has provided a big advancement in getting the most use of a server’s capacity. By using virtual machines, you can reduce the number of servers you need and consequently lower your energy and cooling expenses immediately. It’s been estimated that a data center can reduce its power footprint by 75 percent just by fully virtualizing its environment.
  • Cold aisle containment: A well-rounded efficiency plan should include more than just high-tech solutions, and a temperature strategy known as cold aisle containment involves taking some physical steps to ensure you’re getting the most out of your cooling system. This entails installing doors at each end of a series of server cabinets and adding a roof on top, forcing cool air from the floor to enter the servers. Additionally, blanker panels can be installed inside a cabinet to prevent air from seeping through any openings within the cabinet.
  • Economizers and free cooling: During certain times of the year or in certain geographical areas, cooler outdoor temperatures can contribute to regulating a data center’s temperature. Devices known as economizers can function as part of an air conditioning system, allowing free cooling. The economizer draws in cool, external air, cleans any impurities out of it, and then uses that air to help maintain a data center’s temperature. The AC is then no longer running at the usual intensity, and power costs are reduced, allowing you to collaborate with nature for a green solution to a high-tech concern.

Overcoming the Barriers to Efficiency

Taking a more efficient approach to data center operations will consist of first assessing your operations, making some technological considerations, and then putting a tailored plan in place. Being able to see some reduced costs will require both adopting some new practices and making simple adjustments that can yield major benefits. Your team can determine if your data center is being overcooled, if you’re running too many servers, or if your cold aisle containment is working properly. You may find yourself embarking on a virtualization plan in addition to taking simple steps like properly spacing the most active servers throughout the room so that you’ll only need to cool the areas that need it most, rather than the entire room.

Despite any obstacles, greater efficiency is within reach, and as data and cloud demands increase, it will be essential to implement a sustainable system. Utilizing a combination of high- and low-tech solutions can help your company find that ideal balance between continual uptime and cost-saving efficiency.

Bryan Smith brings over 14 years of experience in the telecommunications and technology industries to his role as Chief Strategy Officer of Expedient, a data center, colocation, cloud services and managed data network services provider.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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