The Green Data Center: Saving the Environment and Your Money

Green Grass Money

The concept of green carries with it many layers of meaning. For a chief information officer (CIO), a “green” information technology (IT) initiative must be both environmentally responsible and financially sound.

Today, rising power and cooling costs are a major concern. Combined with increasing competitive, reputational and regulatory pressures to reduce overall carbon footprint and make businesses more environmentally friendly, they beg the question, can a “green” IT initiative be both ecologically and economically sound? Or are these objectives mutually exclusive?

Several factors drive green data center initiatives. Options for building, retrofitting and operating greener data centers can enable organizations to incorporate greener choices into short and long-term plans while keeping an eye on the bottom line.

The State of Green

Not only are corporations expected to comply with new environmental standards and regulations, they increasingly want to make positive environmental choices. Large corporations are leading the green initiative. For example, JetBlue is committed to operating a new, fuel efficient fleet while deploying state-of-the-art technology to develop efficient routings and reduce flying times.

Altera, a semi-conductor company in California, is one of the first to become certified green—which means it is in compliance with all regulations and standards for conserving resources, preventing pollution and minimizing waste.

Sometimes “going green” is no longer optional. Power shortages on the East and West coasts of the U.S. and rolling brownouts in high-demand regions are driving the imperative for highly efficient energy consumption. And, corporations face rising utility costs along with public relations and regulatory pressures that add to the green imperative. These pressures impact their suppliers as well, expanding the trend.

The Data Center: Where Do I Start?

With its costly power and cooling needs, the data center is a worthy focus of green initiatives—and CIOs needn’t start from scratch. You can begin to integrate green initiatives into your existing environment quickly, often without workflow interruption or excessive capital costs.

Although your green goals will be specific to your company and IT organization, there are certain commonalities among most green plans. Arriving at a plan that works for everyone within your organization can be challenging. However, if you keep an open mind and create platforms for ongoing employee brainstorming, you can continually access new ideas, and gain critical buy-in.

The overall goals of “greening” a data center are typically to reduce power consumption and costs, improve equipment utilization, and realize tax and utility rate benefits.

There are three major approaches:

1. Optimize the performance of the IT equipment inside your data center

2. Retrofit an existing data center

3. Build a new data center

A Current-State Assessment

To determine what is best for your organization, start with a baseline assessment of your existing data center and its operations. Evaluate where your data center is functioning optimally; identify areas for improvement; determine your timeframe and budget; and decide if it makes more financial sense to modify your existing space and infrastructure, or to invest in newer, greener facilities and technologies. This assessment can give you the information you need to clarify your green goals in the context of an objective cost/benefit analysis.

Next, you’ll want to develop a prioritized plan of action. You may find it easier to place your goals into one of three categories:

1. Quick-hits: 0-12 months

2. Mid-term: 1-2 years

3. Long-term: 2+ years

For instance, while planning longer-term initiatives to reduce power consumption and gain more data center space, consider some quick-hit improvements: Locate and turn off lights and unnecessary equipment; enable power-management devices on equipment where possible; improve airflow by tidying up and unblocking air vents; and reduce your server footprint through server virtualization and consolidation.

Change need not happen all at once. When it comes to making sound environmental choices and saving money, there are varying shades of green, all leading you toward your ultimate goal.

Optimizing the IT Equipment within Your Data Center

Whether you are adding new technology to your legacy systems or purchasing completely new systems, you can do many things to create a greener environment within your data center and cut costs by reducing power and cooling requirements. These steps are usually considered mid-term (1 to 2 years).

1. Virtualization: Consolidate many servers running at, say, 10 percent efficiency into fewer servers running at higher utilization to realize overall cost- and space-savings for your data center.

2. Deduplication: Eliminate redundant data going through your data center(s). This process can significantly reduce your storage and power needs.

3. Power Economizer Modes: Specify new IT equipment designed with built-in software; therefore, your equipment will operate in a sleep mode during a slower-traffic time, thus conserving power and saving your organization money.

4. Server Replacement Policy: Develop this policy as an internal process, including specifications such as two-way servers, or a single-processor/ dual-core server. Once you establish and adhere to such principles, you will ensure that any newly acquired technology supports your overall plan for a greener data center.

Retrofitting an Existing Data Center

Since careful assessment, strategic planning and capital budgeting are prerequisites to retrofitting an existing data center, retrofitting is usually considered a mid-to-long-term (1 to 2+ years) solution.

  • Simplify cabling systems, moving to overhead configuration if possible.

  • Upgrade power supplies, converters, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, and/or computer room air conditioner (CRAC) systems.

  • Move to a hot aisle/cold aisle arrangement.

  • Optimize data center thermals via precision cooling and other technologies.

  • Reposition air vents.

  • Consolidate your data and centralize your computing.

  • Right-size infrastructure to meet current and anticipated requirements.

Building a New Data Center

Deciding to build a new data center is one of the largest commitments a company can make. Such a decision often requires major strategic planning and capital budgeting before proceeding. Therefore, building a new data center is considered a longer-term (2+ years) solution.

Here are a few important considerations for greener building solutions:

Location: If you are building a new data center on a green field site, you will first want to consider your location. For instance, locating your new data center in a part of the country where the climate is extremely hot will cause you to use more energy (and pay more) for cooling. Whereas locating your data center in a more moderate climate will allow you to save money (if you have the proper cooling technology) by taking advantage of nature’s cooling, when the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees.

Power Supply: Determine whether or not power is limited or readily available and at what prices. Avoid geographic areas with limited, unstable or extremely expensive power supplies.

Building Supplies: Try to select building suppliers and vendors using energy-efficient materials—from insulated concrete forms and reflective roofs to battery-free fly-wheel UPS systems. In many cases, these green materials may cost a little more up front; however, because of their added efficiencies, they can save you money down the line.

Other Considerations When Building:

  • Design your floor plan in modular hot aisle/cold aisle arrangement.

  • If installing raised access flooring, the rule of thumb is one perforated floor tile per ton of air for 5-10 percent heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) energy savings.

  • Install blanking panels in IT cabinets to improve rack cooling performance.

  • Utilize economizer mode of CRAC units. Depending on geography, this feature can add to the energy efficiency of the units.

  • Coordinate air-conditioners to avoid one unit cooling while another heats, or one humidifying while another de-humidifies.

  • Install more efficient power equipment. New top-of-the-line UPS systems are upwards of 10 percent more efficient than legacy systems.

  • Couple cooling targets for shorter air paths. This will lower CRAC fan speeds and reduce the mixing of hot and cold air, allowing for higher rack densities.

  • Select energy-efficient lighting. LED, or light emitting diode is a newly recognized, highly efficient light source with incredible visual impact, according to Corporate Greening Initiative, an organization dedicated to promoting businesses for their green initiatives.

  • Create high-, medium- and low-performance zones within the data center to optimize power/cooling efficiencies.

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