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8 green computing best practices

As climate change becomes a more pressing issue, these sustainability best practices can help your data center go greener, which benefits both your business and the environment.

Making a data center more environmentally friendly means studying your facility's power and resource usage and learning what potential changes can make a difference. You can take steps such as replacing inefficient assets with newer ones or partnering with green vendors to create a more sustainable data center.

According to some studies, data centers accounted for approximately 205 terawatt-hours of electricity use in 2018, or roughly 1% of all electricity consumption globally -- enough to power some small American cities. The ongoing digitization of the world continues to fuel demand for energy, which means data centers must take an active role in reducing their carbon footprints as climate change becomes an increasingly pressing global issue.

Developing green data centers must become a priority for companies across industries and geographic locations. Consider eight steps you can take to make your data center more sustainable -- an essential task from both a business perspective and an environmental one. 

Track your base usage

First, you must know how much power and how many resources your data center currently uses. Start by tracking overall electrical usage. Then you can dive deeper into the numbers to forecast future use. For example, break your electrical use down into HVAC, server, infrastructure, network and storage consumption. Once you have a sense of your baseline, you can start looking at ways to improve efficiency.

Right-size your servers

Running your servers 24/7 might actually lead you to underutilize them. Some servers might only process requests during certain times of the day, while others might run applications infrequently or simply no longer serve a purpose. Server monitoring tools like Zabbix, Netreo and PRTG Network Monitor can help admins track server utilization to determine which server functions you can consolidate onto fewer machines, which you can virtualize and which you can decommission altogether.

Modify the temperature

Data center HVAC systems tend to be designed to use more air conditioning than the data center really requires. Newer data center assets can safely run at higher temperatures, so data center facilities can keep the overall temperature a little warmer in order to reduce the load on HVAC.

Rearrange your data center

You can increase the efficiency of your data center by rearranging it based on energy consumption and temperature. Use smart layouts such as hot and cold aisle configurations to group warmer assets together and take advantage of HVAC vent placement.

Such layouts require you to understand the locations of your intake and outtake vents in the facility in order to place assets appropriately. You can then place additional units in hotter zones for supplemental cooling and reduce your overall electricity costs and demands on your HVAC system.

Replace older assets with more efficient ones

Many legacy assets use more power, generate more heat and have lower physical tolerances than newer ones. Newer servers, switches, racks and HVAC technologies have higher-efficiency processors and components. Include these new assets when appropriate for your data center, such as during end-of-life or sunset processes or during replacement maintenance processes. You can also replace physical servers with virtual ones or move certain resources to the cloud to cut down on the number of physical technologies you use.

Invest in smart facilities management

IT service management requires you to gather and store a lot of information about your data centers, including power consumption and data loads. By analyzing that data, you give your environmental control systems the insights it requires to optimize your asset usage, thus reducing power consumption and HVAC loads.

AI-powered monitoring tools can use machine learning to analyze facility data to create a power usage effectiveness forecasting model. Some data centers also use AI-powered tools to autonomously manage HVAC functions at their facilities, in partnership with IoT sensors that feed continuous temperature data to the system. The software then analyzes the data and automatically changes the HVAC system to ensure that temperatures remain at optimal levels at all times. Google has used this technology to reduce energy consumption by 40% in its data center cooling systems.

Investigate alternate green technologies

Organizations seeking to reduce their carbon footprints can consider many green alternatives, such as geothermal cooling, wind power and hydroelectric power. For example, Verne Global uses geothermal and hydroelectric technologies in their Keflavik, Iceland, data center to naturally cool their facility, TierPoint's data center in Spokane, Wash., combines internal geothermal cooling technology with Washington's green electricity generation options to reduce their footprint, and Iron Mountain's underground data centers take advantage of natural cooling.

Check which green options are available to your organization, because the development of new green technologies means you can always find new ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Partner with green vendors and organizations

Develop green partnerships with vendors and organizations that offer more sustainable options. U.S.-based data centers can partner with the EPA to identify the best green power products for their locations. You can check for a vendor's or provider's sustainability level through the Carbon Disclosure Project, the RE100 and Sustainalytics to see their commitment to renewable energy.

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