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Building an energy efficient data center for savings

Here are some upgrades and infrastructure changes needed to build a truly efficient data center. Even the small ones provide added efficiency.

I am often asked about green, energy-efficient data centers and my answer is always the same: pursuing efficiency is both environmentally friendly and provides a good return on investment.

Today, most companies’ infrastructure is highly virtualized and organizations are benefiting from higher efficiencies achieved from an optimized IT infrastructure. Another trend taking hold is the optimization of critical infrastructure, like power distribution and cooling. The average data center now consumes as much power on that critical infrastructure load as on the IT load, with UPS losses and cooling accounting for much of the cost. This translates to a data center power usage effectiveness (PUE) score of 2.0 or higher.

On the colocation provider front, high efficiency designs with PUEs as low as 1.4 are becoming common in many new data centers, while providers with existing facilities are responding to the competition with redesigns, retrofits and upgrades to electrical, cooling and humidification systems. Many colocation providers now showcase their higher efficiency designs, which translate into lower operating costs for both the providers and customers.

Striving for the ultra-high efficiencies (extremely low PUEs of 1.1 or 1.2) found in the well-publicized data centers of large Web-based companies is usually not technically or economically feasible for private data centers in enterprises. But in most instances, there are short-term, tactical actions that can provide immediate benefit, yielding 25% to 40% savings in electric utility costs. For most data center operators, those utility cost savings involve the least expensive projects and are the simplest to implement, with paybacks in six to 12 months.

The energy efficient data center to-do list

The efficiency gains from simple data center enhancements like installing collars on CRAC/CRAH units, aisle containment doors and rack blanking panels can drop electrical consumption by 25% or more in the average data center. Operations teams will appreciate the reduced stress on equipment from more consistent server inlet temperatures, and the resulting reductions in power consumption can often be used to increase the total power and cooling capacity in an existing data center facility. In some geographies, the local utilities even provide incentives, such as rebates, to help pay for the cost of the efficiency upgrades.

Modest increases in server inlet temperatures from 72 to 74 degrees have also proved to provide substantial reductions in cooling costs without added data center operations risk.

Additional longer-term actions such as engineering reviews of critical infrastructure or computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis of cooling usually require expert help but often can further improve data center efficiency. Many companies use the savings from initial efficiency gains to fund such an expert analysis, or even the strategy, project planning and implementation of holistic data center optimization programs.

These energy efficient data center trends have taken longer than expected to gain traction, but the momentum seems to have accelerated over the past 24 months.

Optimizing your existing footprint with a consistent pursuit of efficiency will not only reduce your data center’s impact on the environment, but reduce your operating costs as well. That’s a win-win.

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