Efficient Data Centers Increasingly Crucial for Telecom Companies

Carl Weinschenk

Data centers used by enterprises and Web services companies use tremendous amounts of energy. Wringing even a small percentage out of the total can quickly add up to great savings, for both the company’s bottom line and for the environment.

Of course, knowing the extent of usage is the first step to reducing it. Light Reading’s Dawn Bushaus writes that the traditional way in which data centers measure their usage is known as Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). PUE, she writes, is an incomplete and potentially misleading metric:

During recent months, leading-edge datacenter operators eBay Inc. and Facebook have announced energy efficiency dashboards that show how much energy the companies' facilities are consuming -- in real time, in the case of Facebook -- and they're trying to get other companies, telcos included, to adopt their methodologies.

Telcos use data centers differently, however, and these companies won’t necessarily adapt the new approach, according to the story. Indeed, a Sprint Vice President is quoted as suggesting that the new method, Digital Service Efficiency (DSE), is better suited to the transaction-oriented firms such as eBay than to telcos.

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Six Tips for a Greener Data Center

Data centers use a dramatic amount of energy, so dramatic reductions are possible. For instance, Apple said last week that it is constructing an 18-megawatt photovoltaic solar plant to power a new data center in Nevada. Sci-Tech Today reported that The Fort Churchill Solar Array, to be built in Yerington, will be 137 acres. The fossil fuel it will create will be the equivalent of taking 6,400 vehicles off the road annually, the company said.

It is important to note that the facility is in one of the warmest states in the country. Often, data centers are located in colder climates in order to take the edge off the extreme cooling demands of the servers within. That logic is turned on its head as it becomes possible to harness solar power. Suddenly, the most sun-drenched and hottest areas become prime areas for data centers.

The data center power challenge was addressed in a survey conducted this spring by InformationWeek, Siemens and UBM Tech. There are several avenues to increased efficiency, according to respondents. In order of popularity, they are consolidation of servers, use of blades, more energy-efficient equipment, virtualization, outsourcing, adoption of modular options and data center infrastructure management software.

Of course, the usual suspects continue to build new data centers. For instance, Engadget reported last month that Microsoft is supporting Xbox Live and Office 365 with a new data center in Iowa that will cost almost $700 million to build.

The art of data centers, including how to run them most efficiently, is increasingly important to telecommunications companies. For instance, in November of last year, Time Warner Cable opened its National Data Center East in Charlotte, N.C. and broke ground late last month on an expansion of its National Data Center West in Centennial, Colorado. The plan is to add 75 percent to the capacity, according to CED.

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