New Help for a Green Data Center

Arthur Cole

When it comes to greening up the data center, there are two basic elements to a comprehensive strategy. One is to invest in the newest technologies, like virtualization and SSDs, that maintain performance levels while cutting back on energy usage. The other is to rework existing infrastructure to make it more efficient.

Believe it or not, it's the second option that often proves the most difficult. An improved floor layout might generate cooling efficiencies, but what, exactly, is the optimal design? Should you expand an existing storage array, or is it cheaper to locate it off-site?

That's why it's good to see a number of new solutions aimed at helping enterprises gather the "low-hanging fruit" of energy conservation. Quite often, it's the simple things that produce the greatest benefits.

One such offering is a new online tool from The Green Grid that will help North American enterprises make the best use of outside air (a free and abundant resource) to help keep the inside cooler. The kit includes a graphical map of the United States and Canada (hi-res for grid members, low-res for everyone else) that contains data from more than 2,000 weather stations across the region, and allows users to input data such as local energy costs, IT loads and overall facility loads to determine how much savings they could realize with outside air. It also analyzes savings from the use of other techniques, like water-side economizers.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is also working directing a number of projects designed to find the most effective and efficient means of reducing energy costs. One program being carried out in conjunction with Intel, IBM and HP is looking into linking servers' internal temperature sensors to air-conditioning units to help guide air to where it's needed most. The group is also investigating a new generation of wireless sensors to direct the flow from room air-handlers.

Of course, the best place to try out the latest-and-greatest technologies is with a brand new data center, which is what IBM hopes to do with a new facility at Melbourne, Australia's Victoria University. The two-site facility will serve close to 45,000 students spread out over 11 campuses. It will feature an in-row cooling system coupled with smaller UPS modules to hopefully shave 45 percent off the university's typical 600,000+ kw/year draw.

Not everyone has the luxury of starting from scratch, however. And even though the cost-savings can be significant, some are wondering whether a recession is the best time to invest in green technology. But as John Brandon points out in this article on, quite often less power consumption can go hand-in-hand with improved performance. Today's SATA drives, for example, are twice as fast as earlier Fibre Channel systems, but draw 30 percent less power. Using tape backup instead of disk is also a lower-cost investment that pays green dividends.

The problem with going green is there is no clear roadmap showing you how to do it, nor, in fact, is there a consensus as to what "green" really is. But energy consciousness has a way of gaining momentum, and if the rest of the enterprise sees that IT is taking it seriously, than they might start shutting off the lights at night, too.

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