Data center energy hits the wall, part 1 of Green data center 2.0

With data center CPU and storage demand outstripping improvements, data centers need to consider new energy-saving tactics.

Rising energy prices and increasing data center power demand will soon converge to require changes in energy consumption and use.

Recent statistics from a McKinsey & Co./Uptime Institute report on data center energy use present some sobering numbers:

  • Between 2000 and 2006, data center energy use doubled . And by 2012, it's expected to double again.

    • For many industries, data centers are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Between now and 2010, U.S. demand for data center energy will require the equivalent of 10 new power plants.
    These numbers might not mean much on paper, but these factors will coalesce into a spike in utility prices that will drastically change the patterns of our energy use. For starters, during the next presidential administration, climate change legislation and carbon emission regulation will be a reality in the U.S. Each candidate has pledged to enact global-warming legislation, and the bipartisan America's Climate Security Act of 2007 is currently in Senate committee and could be voted on as soon as June 2008.

    This legislation would impose a cap-and-trade system on utility companies, raising the price of power an estimated 20% across the board. Data center operators already constrained by huge power bills are in for even more sticker shock at the meter in the future. Click here for more on cap and trade's impact on the data center.

    While proposed legislation would require utility companies only to track and reduce carbon emissions, some data center managers like Michael Manos at Microsoft expect the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to start monitoring the carbon emissions of all U.S. businesses.

    "There are massive efforts afoot in government and regulatory agencies," Manos said in an interview at AFCOM. "The CEO of the company will have to start reporting carbon emissions and energy usage, and that [responsibility] is going to be shifted to the IT department that maintains the data centers. Most data center professionals haven't thought about this today. …It's not a question of if, but when, it is coming and what metrics will be required to report on this. It'd be far better for the people who run and operate data centers to come up with metrics that mean something."

    And as mentioned, if the McKinsey/Uptime estimates are correct, the U.S. will need to build 10 new power plants over the next two years. The permitting process for these projects won't even be complete by 2010, let alone the power production. According Andrew Fanara, who heads the Energy Star product team at the EPA, the data center industry could face a power shortage, which would increase energy costs further. Data centers are tethered to the grid -- and as energy issues become more challenging, there is risk for any business that depends on the grid. For more on energy security, listen to this podcast on energy security with Fanara.

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