Energy-Saving Tips for a Greener Data Center

With growing concerns about the environment and the exponentially increasing energy costs, data center companies are forced to reconsider their stand on energy savings. The need for faster and efficient computing and storage is not exactly diminishing in value; so clearly, a compromise cannot be made with regards to scaling. As the energy costs are rising to a point where one has to think of electricity bills along with cost of maintenance and initial investment, the spendthrift ways of utilizing energy energy savinghave to be replaced with more efficient, planned and “greener” ones.

Since “switching off” a data center is unheard of, and since they are turning out to be such power guzzlers, steps have to be taken to optimize the data center rather than restrict its growth. One can start by analyzing the data center energy consumption. This can be done by calculating data center energy efficiency. It measures the total load delivered to the data center versus the energy consumed by the IT loads. The aim is to keep this value as low as possible.

Excessive energy overhead can be generated by a number of factors, including over provisioning, poor airflow and inefficient cooling and power supplies, switching, unnecessarily redundant systems, inefficient/older equipment, and lighting. Optimizing on cooling itself could cut down energy consumption by a significant percent. As devices are getting smaller and cheaper, the enterprises are adding more machines into the data center. Although the heat produced by an individual machine is comparatively low, the overall heat of the data center due to addition of more machines is rising.

The cost of power can cooling can be brought down by implementing the following ten practices.

  • Right size IT equipment

Survey shows that average server utilization ranges from 10 to 20 percent of capacity. Equipment operating with momentous overcapacity is a waste of resources as no matter how much IT load is being used, fixed losses in power and cooling are always present. By rightsizing the IT equipment, one can save as much as 50% energy consumption. Investing in modular, scalable equipment is always better than buying a huge machine anticipating future requirement. One can always invest in better and latest technology when there is need.

  • Communicate with the facilities department

The IT department in most cases is oblivious to the electricity bills as this is taken care of by the facilities department. If energy savings is to become a priority, there needs to be a better clarity between the two departments. All energy efficiency related projects should be a joint initiative by the IT- facilities departments.

  • Track that energy!

Tracking how much energy each machine is consuming provides a baseline for deciding which machine may need replacement depending on the ROI of the new energy saving machine. To monitor non IT equipment, involve the facilities department. Consider investing in products that help track and manage power intake, monitor system and room temperature that can help match requirements and save power. Some devices can separately measure power in desired areas as per the requirement.

  • Plan for long- term cooling and capacity infrastructure

As the number of machines in the data center continues to escalate, the data center’s power and cooling requirements are also increasing accordingly. The existing power and cooling facilities may/may not meet the growing requirement. Right- sizing the equipment involves careful analysis of energy consumption data to develop forecasts, examine future capacity requirements in order to prevent incapacity. It is important to develop a data center cooling solution based on the current and projected heat density and the type of materials used. One can also invest in spot cooling devices.

  • Consider server consolidation and virtualization to improve energy efficiency

Explore the option of using server/ storage consolidation and virtualization as a solution to redundant equipment, capacity utilization and energy consumption. Virtualization comes with its own group of advantages. It saves investment on hardware and reduces maintenance costs. Electricity providers in some cities are also providing a rebate to IT centers that practice server consolidation and virtualization.

But it has to be noted that consolidation and virtualization contribute to increased heat density. Thus your cooling solutions have to be in place and functioning efficiently for you to consider this option.

  • Dispose of the  antiques

Old servers, switches, routers and storage devices tend to be less efficient and produce more heat than their newer counterparts. Refusing to dispose machines that have long since crossed their expiry date just adds to your bills. Switching to new equipments every time technology improves is not feasible either. One has to develop migration plans for all IT equipments as soon as they are put into operation. Blade servers can help reduce physical space requirements while using less energy for the same processing power as rack mount servers. They also include power management tools to help with tracking and monitoring energy efficiency.

  • Deliver targeted and adaptive cooling

Room level AC’s are inefficient in a data center as the heat density varies from place to place. Localized cooling solutions may offer better results as well as save energy in such situations. Placing the cooling device close to the equipment allows better transfer of heat as opposed to allowing it to diffuse to the surrounding areas. Also, the cooling device should have a variable output to meet the changing needs of the equipments. Study shows that although an expensive option, liquid cooling reduces energy costs by as much as 30% to 50% when compared to room level AC’s.

  • Improve airflow management

Air distribution is an important factor in efficient cooling. An efficient airflow management minimizes the mixing of hot air emitting from the machine and the cool air being supplied to it. They can help increase the heat density factor of the data center, minimize operation costs and heat related malfunctions. The following approaches may be taken to improve airflow management

  1. Implementing a cool aisle/hot aisle layout.
  2. Checking for short circuiting airflows
  3. Using flexible barriers where fixed ones are not available
  4. By repositioning poorly placed overhead air supplies.
  • Place the thermostats where necessary

It is absolutely essential to place the thermostat in front of the equipment where the surrounding temperature reading can give an accurate reading of the system temperature. The speed of the fans can be controlled as per the reading thus ensuring that the fans need not be set at maximum capacity all the time. This saves huge amounts of energy. Also, investigate the use of free cooling via economizer.

  • Shop green

While buying the equipments, look for products that have eco labels and include specific efficiency ratings. Check for heat output, cooling capacity and energy consumption. Buy servers that guarantee energy efficient power supply. The upside to this is that the utility company may also offer rebates when the data center is taking steps to conserve energy.

A last word

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent every year in keeping the data centers operative. A small investment today to save energy will most certainly go a long way in cutting down the electricity bills of the data center and ensure efficient operation.

For more tips on energy saving in a data center, visit Data Center Talk