Are data centers suddenly becoming the poster child of the 'global warming/carbon footprint' syndrome, as we continue operating our mega data centers while presumably feeling guilty?
While the Copenhagen Summit deals with the large-scale issues of climate change, carbon footprint and global warming, I find it interesting that Gartner's 28th Annual Data Center Conference is being held in Las Vegas this week, a city that exemplifies the meaning of the word 'excess." Setting aside any moral issues ('What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas'), it is a city that is operated on almost limitless, low-cost power.
How else could any business afford to see how many more megawatts it can burn to 'outshine' neighboring casinos? And while Google and other large-scale operators of data centers all try to find locations that offer natural climatic advantages to improve the efficiency of their data centers (such as via the use of economizers to lower the amount of energy used by mechanical cooling), some operators are building data centers in the nearby desert, where there is almost no possibility to use 'free cooling."
But as I mentioned previously, Las Vegas (and most of Nevada) has one of the lowest energy costs, since the Hoover Dam provides a significant percentage of the electrical power. Moreover, it looks like Nevada is also going to be one of the big solar energy generating states, so perhaps the 'greenest' data centers will be in one of the hottest states after all, especially if the EPA's EUE 'Source Energy' becomes the new metric for the coming decade.
Without question, our data centers have grown to a size and scale where their power use has begun to tax the power infrastructure. Directly or indirectly, this does increase the 'carbon footprint." For every kilowatt or megawatt the data center itself uses directly, on average it causes a three-fold increase in the amount of raw hydrocarbon-type fuel (coal, natural gas, etc.) being consumed at the typical power plant (even nuclear plants produce twice as much waste heat that is released into the environment for every MW delivered). Of course, this is true for almost any use of electricity, not just data centers. But here at 'The Hot Aisle,' we concentrate on the data center, not the aluminum smelting industry. (Perhaps I should rename this blog 'The Cold Aisle' in an effort to be politically correct and pay symbolic homage to the issue of global warming.)
However, all that being said, we can all make some effort (or at least more than a symbolic gesture) toward improving the energy usage and efficiency in our data centers.
So here is my no cost - low cost reminder of recommendations that can be done today, with little to no impact on the operations of the IT equipment:
Ultimately, the best way to lower the total energy in a data center is to lower the IT load. Virtualization seems to be the current mantra, and it clearly does lower energy use by consolidating equipment. However, that just means that we now have more room and power to run even more applications and generate and store even more data.
Of course, in order to know if your actions are improving your data center's efficiency, you need to be able to measure the energy. Please consider installing even a basic type of energy-monitoring system, even if it only measures the total power to the data center (while not a perfect measurement, your UPS should effectively provide you with your IT load). Then make your changes and record the (hopefully) improved energy-efficiency results.
So as we all plan for 2010, walk the aisles of your data center (large or small) and think how you can improve energy efficiency. You may also save some operating expenses and perhaps even save your own job or that of a co-worker from being cut, thanks to your organization's drive to improve economic operating efficiency.