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Data center case studies improve efficiency across the industry

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group's Data Center Energy Efficiency project is aimed at promoting data center energy efficiency by having IT managers partner with vendors on case studies, and so far, results have been positive in the form of both energy and cost savings.

A California grassroots energy efficiency initiative has shown impressive results and could have far-reaching ramifications for the industry in the near future. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group's (SLVG) Data Center Energy Efficiency Project aims to create efficiencies in the face of ever-growing energy consumption by facilitating case studies between managers and cutting edge technology vendors.

Traditionally, there have been two inherent challenges for doing this type of case study, according to KC Mares, principal at Megawatt Consulting and co-chair of the 2009 SVLG case study program. One is the resistance by data centers to share proprietary information, and the other is their reluctance to make changes that may affect data center reliability.

"No one seems to be doing case studies that are presented by [data center managers]," said Bob Hines, vice president, general counsel and energy director at the SVLG. "It comes across as far more credible because it does not come across as a marketing pitch."

Why participate in data center case studies?
The motivation for managers to participate in these case study projects is the potential for greater electrical efficiency, thus creating a return on investment (ROI) through energy savings and, possibly, an additional financial incentive through the local utility. "You can be seen as a leader in the field, and other opportunities open up," explains Mares.

Hines said interested companies should find a vendor partner offering an efficiency approach that meets each company's needs."Figure out if any utility incentives have been launched for the technology, and then come to the SLVG, and we'll help them set up protocols for tracking energy use."

Hines cautions data center managers to make sure they get top-to-bottom support so that vital company personnel can plan accordingly. "You have got to make sure you let the C-level people and marketing know what you are doing," says Hines. "A lot of companies push out this information and no one told the C-level people or marketing what they were up to," Hines said. "C-level executives can be very sensitive to company names being attached to projects."

Data center efficiency case study: Cisco
At Cisco's San Jose, Calif., campus, execs asked employees to find ways to reduce company expenditures, so Cisco's data center switching technology group (DCSTG), including lab manager Chris Noland and analyst Vipha Kanakakorn, began looking for possible solutions.

Noland had already attended data center-related seminars, including an energy savings roundtable sponsored by the local utility, and he had known people involved in the SVLG's data center project. After examining various expenditures and much discussion both internally and externally, the DCSTG team decided the best way to achieve savings was to create better energy efficiency in its HVAC system by raising room and chilled water temperatures.

The case study was going to first examine the effects of raising the room temperature setpoint, then raising the chilled water setpoint in three mixed-use labs that included data centers and offices. This was not an easy sell to the facilities department, as its room temperature specifications (68-72 degrees Fahrenheit) were considerably lower than what the DCSTG team was looking to achieve (76-80 degrees Fahrenheit). However, after much consultation, the facilities team agreed to both room and chilled water temperature increases. Kanakakorn credits the efforts of company colleagues to helping carry out the study. "We had a lot of information from various sources and we needed a lot of tools, so we needed collaboration from various departments."

The average temperature setpoint was gradually raised to meet its aforementioned goal over the course of several weeks, along with the chilled water setpoint being raised from 44 degrees to 48 degrees Fahrenheit. The results from the study showed an overall cooling cost savings of 21.9%, or 2,006,000 kWh, annually. Cisco intends to implement this plan and raise the temperature setpoints where possible in other company locations. The estimated company savings could be over $2 million.

"There are two reasons to save energy and they are both green," says Noland, referring to both the environmental benefits and cost savings associated with the project. Cisco also has a company goal to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% by 2012, so this type of project falls in line with its bigger corporate plans.

Data center efficiency case study: California Tax Board
The California's State Franchise Tax Board data center in Sacramento, Calif. adopted a precision cooling monitoring system to improve its data center efficiency. The agency set up a wireless mesh-network of 46 temperature sensors. The monitoring system was installed at various positions to provide air temperature feedback at the IT equipment inlets.

The data from the monitoring network was used to determine which of the 12 CRAH cooling units to operate, and allowed staff to reset the setpoints of the cooling units. Four CRAH cooling units were converted to variable-speed operation with variable frequency drive retrofits. Also, containment curtains were added that separated hot air from cold air in the aisles to allow the cooling units to draw heated return air from an overhead plenum.

The overall project reduced data center energy consumption by 475,239 kWh per year, which is 21.3% of the baseline energy consumption of the data center. The efficiency project saves $42,772 per year and costs $134,057 for a payback of 3.1 years (without rebates). The data center's power usage effectiveness (PUE) improved from 1.81 to 1.41.

Taking the case study program beyond Silicon Valley
Mares said data centers in Silicon Valley are leading the curve, with PUEs in the 1.05 to 1.3 range, whereas most of the industry is achieving 1.5 to 2.0. As successful as the SVLG's project has been, much of the work has been segmented to northern California and its regional companies. Hines hopes that in the first quarter of 2011, the SVLG will be able to expand its grassroots campaign to other states to share its successes and continue collaboration on a bigger stage.

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