Enterprise Sustainability and Greening Data Centers


By Dr. Zen Kishimoto, Principal Analyst, Alta Terra Research Network

Some years ago, energy was cheap. Few people in corporations paid attention to how much energy was consumed company wide, much less in data centers. More recently, however, several factors have changed this scene completely. These factors included much higher demands for computing and storage due to the rapid increase in online processing in both business and consumer sectors and, consequently, denser server concentration to maximize the use of space in data centers.

According to a 2007 EPA report, power consumption by U.S. data centers doubled between 2001 and 2006. In 2006, data centers used 1.5 percent of all the power consumed in the United Sates. Without any remedy, consumption will double again by 2011. As a testimony to this study, many operators have recently begun feeling pain at several points in their data centers, which are experiencing power shortages, high costs, and extensive needs for cooling.

During the past several years, the cost of energy, including electricity, rose substantially, and power availability declined because of high demands. The vast majority of the energy used in a data center is consumed by IT gears, especially servers. A large number of servers and other IT gears are deployed to accommodate ever-increasing demands on computing power and storage.

Most IT executives are not responsible for energy and tend to select the least expensive volume servers, which are not necessarily the most energy efficient. The power consumption at each rack and cabinet used to be around 1 kW. But for the aforementioned reasons, power consumption increased to 5 kW, and some operators even report consuming 20–30 kW.

Server consolidation through virtualization–which decreases the number of servers required–has been successfully implemented as one way to control server power consumption, but nonetheless, a 30 time increase is no insignificant sum.

This leads us to the problem of cooling. The traditional cooling method pushes air cooled by CRAC (computer room air conditioner) units placed under a raised floor. The cooled air comes up from the floor through perforated tiles strategically placed in front of the servers. As server density intensifies, more-pinpointed cooling methods are implemented.

The initial motivation for green data centers was the desire to save money. Now a few internal and external elements are creating a new motivation to establish corporate sustainability. One such element is regulatory pressure. Even though the United States is somewhat behind Europe in the sustainability movement, data center operators have started feeling the pressure to go green. In the United Kingdom, a law has been passed to control GHG emissions regardless of industry. U.S. data center operators who conduct business in the U.K. must comply with stringent sustainability requirements.

It is very likely that the next phase of data center energy efficiency will be sustainability. Enterprise sustainability encompasses multiple components, including office, factory, and data center. Each component is not a silo but relates to others. U.S. data center operators need to think of data centers as one of the pieces in the entire enterprise sustainability plan when they consider GHG emissions, water usage, e-waste management, and the other elements that contribute to sustainability. It is not too early to start preparing for this inevitable change.

Zen KishimotoDr. Zen Kishimoto is in charge of Green IT at Alta Terra, an independent analysis firm focused on the business opportunities and risks associated with environmental sustainability and resource efficiency. After working for Fortune 100 companies, Dr. Kishimoto has been a successful entrepreneur and software business consultant specializing in product management, turning technologies to viable business and covering each phase of product management.

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