It is hard to imagine going back to a world without computers, they store critical data for our every day lives. Now, the same is true for large companies, governments and organizations; they would not be able to run without their data. That is why there are data centers across the US that store and update that information constantly. The drawback is that these centers use a lot of power to keep the world of data just a click away. According to the EPA, the nation’s servers and data centers consumed about 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2006 (1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption) for a total electricity cost of about $4.5 billion.
What is a data center?
A data center is essentially a secure, climate controlled space with rows and rows of servers, which store information on chains of hard drives that run continuously. A data center needs energy to power the actual IT equipment (i.e. servers), which can get really hot and need to be cooled constantly, as well as overhead energy to run the facility (i.e. cooling, lighting). Typically, heavy- duty air conditioning does the cooling job, racking up huge energy bills. The more efficient a data center, the lower the overhead required to operate the facility. Conventional data centers run at an average overhead of 100%. Things are much different in an energy efficient data center. For example, Google has been able to reduce this overhead to just 14% in its energy efficient data centers, and they have also reduced overall electricity consumption by 50% compared to a typical data center. This means that most of the energy goes towards powering Google’s IT equipment that directly does the data center’s work – that of serving Google searches and applications.
High Energy Consumption
As one of the fastest growing sectors, national energy consumption by servers and data centers has doubled and is now around 3%, which is more than 100 billion kWh, representing a $7.4 billion annual electricity cost. As more information comes on line, data centers will consume even more energy. To address this issue, a global taskforce comprised of representatives from the U.S., European Union, and Japan has been meeting regularly since February 2010 to provide greater detail on metrics to improve energy efficiency in the IT industry. IT giant such as Google have also joined in the effort to improve efficiency on a broader scale. In 2007, Google teamed with Intel and other industry partners to found the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a group which champions more efficient computing. This non-profit consortium is committed to cutting the energy consumed by computers in half – reducing global CO2 emissions by 54 million tons per year. One of the most effective methods to reduce high energy costs has been the creation of energy efficient data centers, which are quickly gaining popularity. They significantly reduce the amount of energy it takes to power our digital lives.
Advantages of an energy efficient data center
At first glance an energy efficient data center looks similar to a regular data center: rows and rows of servers. However, if you take a closer look, you will see the difference. Instead of running all the time, these efficient servers switch to a low power stand-by mode when they are not in use. In stand-by mode, efficient servers use only a fraction of electricity of standard servers. They are a lot cooler too. Moreover, new software tools help optimize energy use. In an energy efficient data center, instead of using air conditioning, there are actually two different treatment systems: one system sucks hot air out of the data center. In cold months, the heat is redistributed through the building’s duct work to help keep the rest of the building warm. A second system pulls in fresh air from the vent. The air circulates underground where the constant temperature is about 54 degrees. From there, the chilled air circulates through a completely separate system and cools the data center. Fans circulate the cool air back through the servers. Thanks to a climate ripe for these efficiency methods, such a data center rarely uses air conditioning: only 33 hours throughout the entire year! Keep in mind, the data center is always working: 24/7.
There is another huge advantage: for every watt your computer equipment uses, regular data centers require more then 2 watts of power. However, in an energy efficient center only 1/10 of a watt is needed, compared to a traditional data center of a similar size and overall utilize 81% less energy. Regardless of climate, it is possible to realize big savings through a smart data center design, and that is beneficial to both the environment, and a company’s bottom line.