According to Berkeley’s Lab Energy Technologies Area, “In 2014, data centers in the U.S. consumed an estimated 70 billion kWh, representing about 1.8% of total U.S. electricity consumption.” The report goes on to say energy usage among data centers is expected to increase to approximately 73 billion kWh in 2020. So it’s clear: data centers use a lot of energy, and it’s estimated that at least one-quarter of an average company’s energy bill is spent on powering their data centers, which is a lot of money for companies such as Netflix, Google or Amazon.
And the problem is only getting bigger. According to reports, information and communications are expected to use 20% of all the world’s power by 2025, and that number is only going to grow as more and more people come online in the developing world. Plus, when you factor in the amount of Internet of Things (IoT) devices coming online every year, we’re looking at a huge burden being put on, not only data centers but our power grids.
How Can We Make Data Centers More Efficient?
With the number of devices coming online in the upcoming years, it’s no secret that the power demands placed on servers and data centers are going to grow exponentially. The good news, however, is that we can make our data centers more energy efficient to reduce the load placed on our power grids and our carbon emissions.
One thing to do to bring our data centers to heel is to replace servers with aging hard drives to servers with solid state drives (SSDs). While solid state drives cost more per gigabyte, they’re more energy efficient than mechanical spinning drives, and they generate less heat. An example of the energy savings one can achieve by replacing spinning drives with solid state drives is offered by a book, Data Infrastructure Management: Insights and Strategies by Greg Schulz, who poses a scenario in which the full capacity of spinning hard drives isn’t being utilized. Schulz says, “If you have 1,000 15k disks that are only 37% utilized, then it looks like you have a strong need for SSD drives.”
Another energy saving idea is to reduce the load put on our servers, and one way to do that is by a technique called virtualization, which is when you have multiple workloads running off the same server. If you have a server that’s not at full capacity, adding on extra work in the form of virtualization is a great way to save energy.
Getting more air into your server room to cool down the machines also reduces the energy needs. So, to do this, you have to design server rooms to maximize cooling and eliminate heat efficiently while maintaining temperature and humidity. The money spent upgrading server rooms or building new ones to be more energy efficient will be returned with savings on your energy bills.
Replacing older equipment is another way to make your servers and data centers more energy efficient. As new technologies come onto the market, replacing outdated energy hogs with more energy efficient machines reduces energy consumption.
Besides beefing up the cooling and humidity reduction in your server rooms, it is recommended to situate your containment and enclosures in such a way that maximizes the cooling and heat exhaust. They go on to say that when you arrange your servers in a hot/cold aisle arrangement, the containment systems can reduce energy consumption by 5% to 10%.
AC to DC
Another technique to consider to bring your energy usage down is to change your power supply from A.C. to D.C. According to research conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute, a switch to D.C. power can save up to 14.9% in energy when server arrays are at full strength, and up to 15.8% when idling. According to Schulz, “D.C. power supplies are practical at scale. To do it for one cabinet makes no sense, but for a large data center it does.”
Pull the Plug
Decommissioning unused servers is another way companies like Network Control, can save energy in their data centers. Surveys reveal 8-10% of servers with no use (called comatose) are still operating, which not only adds heat to the server room but sucks down more energy too. According to Kenneth Brill, executive director of the Uptime Institute, “unless you have a rigorous program of removing obsolete servers at the end of their lifecycle . . . is very likely that between 15% and 30% of the equipment running in your data center is comatose. It consumes electricity without doing any computing.”
Although the typical server farm or data center represents a significant power draw, you can lighten the load by taking the steps listed above. If you’re not sure where to begin, you can get with your I.T. department and a specialist who knows about where and how to save energy and schedule a walk-through of your data center to look for areas where improvements can be made. Also, it’s wise to check with your local energy supplier and ask them about incentives to become more energy efficient and get their recommendations.
While data centers will continue to grow and require energy, you can reduce power consumption and your carbon footprint without sacrificing service to your users.