Knowing the importance of taking measurements in your Data Center, what elements are useful to measure to evaluate how green a room is and to quantify the impact of various upgrades? The sections that follow address this question.
The single-most important resource for you to measure in your Data Center is energy. How much power the facility has and how much power is consumed by both IT equipment and supporting infrastructure such as cooling systems and lighting.
It’s vital to measure energy for several reasons:
Power is a Data Center’s most precious resource: The small form factor and big energy demands of today’s high performance servers mean most Data Centers will run out of power well before cabinet space or cooling. Even if you aren’t interested in green considerations, measuring energy usage is critical to understand the true capacity of the room.
Power is the common element among disparate Data Center subsystems: Air handlers, servers, and overhead lighting are all different infrastructure of a Data Center — so different that they’re each installed and maintained by personnel that are trained in separate disciplines — yet they all need power to function. Measuring energy consumption creates a common standard by which you can tell how much they’re each drawing upon your overall Data Center capacity.
Power consumption largely defines a Data Center’s environmental impact: The amount of power that a Data Center uses on a day-to-day basis determines how much irreplaceable fossil fuels it consumes and the quantity of carbon emissions it is responsible for.
Because of these conditions, green Data Center improvements that conserve energy provide some of the largest benefits to your business. Measuring power in your Data Center is, therefore, also the best way to appraise that value and understand the real impact of those green improvements.
Another benchmark of a Data Center’s environmental impact is its carbon footprint — the amount of carbon dioxide produced as part of the ongoing operation of the facility.
Carbon dioxide is one of a handful of substances dubbed greenhouse gases that trap heat from the sun and warm the Earth. (Water vapor is the most common greenhouse gas, followed by carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons.)
That warming effect is necessary to a certain degree. Without it, the Earth’s mean surface temperature would be –2 degrees Fahrenheit (–19 degrees Celsius) rather than today’s 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius).
Many scientists and environmentalists today are concerned that human activity is causing such problems, prompting them and various government agencies worldwide to call for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Although carbon dioxide occurs naturally — people, animals, and plants all produce it; volcanoes and hot springs emit it as well — carbon is also a byproduct of burning fossil fuels.
More than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, for example, are energy-related carbon dioxide — originating from the combustion of petroleum, coal, and natural gas — according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The links from energy production to carbon dioxide to climate change mean that the less energy your Data Center uses, the smaller its impact upon the environment.
The other factor in a server environment’s carbon footprint is the makeup of the electricity powering the facility. Several sources of energy are used to create electricity, and each generates a different amount of carbon dioxide. Turning coal into electricity produces more carbon dioxide than natural gas, for instance, so your Data Center will have a larger carbon footprint if your regional power company provides electricity derived from coal rather than natural gas. Cleaner energy sources, such as nuclear or hydroelectric power, create minimal amounts of carbon dioxide, so any Data Center powered by those sources, either directly or by way of a utility provider, will have an even smaller carbon footprint.
One strategy for dealing with carbon emissions is to employ carbon offsets, measures that reduce carbon dioxide. In simple terms, you compensate for the amount of carbon that you (or in this case, your Data Center) generate by sponsoring a project that prevents an equal amount from being created.
Examples of carbon offsets include
Providing a source of renewable energy, such as biofuels, hydroelectric, solar, or wind power
Planting trees, which serve as natural carbon sinks
Capturing and eliminating more potent greenhouse gases, such as methane produced by landfills or pollutants (that is, hydrofluorocarbons or perfluorocarbons) created during industrial processes
Although it’s possible to directly introduce carbon-offsetting measures at your Data Center facility — building a wind farm on land that you own, for example — the more common approach is to pay an environmental organization to do the activity.
Other Data Center Elements
Energy usage and carbon footprint are the features most commonly discussed and measured to determine how green a data center is is; however, other elements warrant attention as well. Other green details to consider include the following:
Generator emissions: Standby generators, used to keep a Data Center running when commercial power fails, consume fuel when in operation and can emit a range of pollutants including nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter.
Water consumption: Major Data Centers consume millions of gallons/liters of water per month through standard cooling processes as hot water is vaporized from a Data Center’s cooling tower and has to be replaced. (Water used to replace what has evaporated is known as makeup water.) Although this consumption hasn’t received the same level of attention from governments and the public in recent years as energy use and carbon emissions, removing such large amounts of water from local supplies is a tremendous environmental impact.
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