Investing in Data Center Efficiencies: Part One

March 4, 2013
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Do you know what the greatest operating expense is for data centers? Energy costs. Steadily rising over the years, the cost of energy now makes up 25 percent of a data center’s total operating costs, says InformationWeekly.com. In a year-long examination, The New York Times found that worldwide, data centers use about 30 billion watts of electricity per year.  This is roughly equal to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.

Do you know what the greatest operating expense is for data centers? Energy costs. Steadily rising over the years, the cost of energy now makes up 25 percent of a data center’s total operating costs, says InformationWeekly.com. In a year-long examination, The New York Times found that worldwide, data centers use about 30 billion watts of electricity per year.  This is roughly equal to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.

In this two-part series, Investing in Data Center Efficiencies, we will explain how companies can make their data centers more efficient. In the first part of the series, we’ll cover why data centers are looking to become more energy efficient and discuss simple, inexpensive tactical things data centers can do to lower energy consumption. The second part of the series will continue to explain what changes can be made to a data center’s infrastructure and the long-term strategies companies can incorporate to become more efficient.

Reasons for Data Center Energy Efficiency
There are two main reasons to make your data center more energy efficient – financial and environmental responsibility. Charles Babcock from InformationWeek points out that with increased energy costs and pressure from environmental groups, data center operators must look for ways to improve energy efficiencies. In fact, he listed “Location Drives Energy Efficiency” as the top data center trend for 2013. Babcock describes how companies are beginning to look for ideal geographical locations to cut energy costs. For example, Michigan data centers can offer energy savings by using less power to cool data centers due to naturally cool temperatures year round.

Three Levels of Investments for Data Centers
Yan Ness, Co-CEO of Online Tech, says there are three different levels data centers can invest in to become more energy efficient: tactical, infrastructure, and strategic. The first level is very tactical and does not require much of an investment to lower energy consumption. According to Ness, all of Online Tech’s Michigan data centers have incorporated the following tactics to lower energy costs.

Hot/Cold Aisle Configuration
A large percentage of data center energy costs are associated with cooling. An easy way to lower cooling costs is to organize servers in a hot/cold aisle configuration. A hot/cold aisle layout lines up server racks in alternating rows with server hot air exhausts pointing in the same direction. Using a hot/cold aisle configuration can reduce energy expenses by 5% to 10%, estimates the US Environmental Protection Agency.

data center energy efficiency

Diagram of hot aisle/cold aisle configuration. (Source: 42u.com)

Implement a lights out data center
A lights out data center limits the amount of time and the number of lights that are on. Data centers can replace or retrofit present lighting fixtures, match lighting cycles with occupancy schedules or use occupancy sensors.  Another benefit to a lights out data center is that it is usually a climate-controlled room with limited access so less cool air escapes when doors open and close.

Research Energy Rebates
Companies can contact their power companies about energy rebate programs that are available.  At Online Tech, we partner with power companies, like Consumers Energy, to evaluate our projects and help us make the design as efficient as possible.  We also work with our power companies to take advantage of various energy rebate programs, according to Bill Severn, Online Tech Chief Administrator Officer.