Many Paths to the Green Data Center

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Six Tips for a Greener Data Center

Create better airflow in the data center.

It doesn't take much of a genius to realize that the data center will become more energy efficient in the coming year and beyond.

Financial incentives aside, the mere fact that nearly all enterprise systems are touting low-power operation right down to the processor level indicate that enterprises will see lower electric bills whether they plan to or not. But within the overall trend toward a greener data center, there are numerous twists and turns that could have a dramatic effect on data operations and overall productivity of the knowledge work force.

One of the key questions going forward will be how to define data center efficiency. While many metrics are kicking around, there is wide discrepancy as to how best to measure usage in relation to IT productivity. The widely touted Power Usage Effectiveness metric, for example, merely measures the ratio of energy consumption by data equipment to overall consumption. Shutting down all the lights, air conditioning, the coffee maker and everything else not related to data processing would get you a stellar 1.0 rating, but it wouldn't make for a very effective IT environment.

Still, the quest goes on for a unified metric. The latest to take up the cause is management software firm iTRACS, which hopes to devise a single number to gauge energy efficiency according to the amount of work being performed. In this way, CIOs will be able to tell if their facilities are efficiently driving productivity, rather than simply cutting consumption.

To some, greater efficiency lies not in improvements to existing infrastructure, but a radical rethinking of long-held designs. A company called ClearEdge is touting the fuel cell as the power supply of the future. The company has devised a series of modular cells that deliver 5 kW or less and can be tied together in bundles of up to 200 kW. The devices are powered by natural gas and are designed to port excess heat to other uses. Average costs are about 9 cents per kWh, which at the moment makes them suitable only for high-cost areas.

Focusing strictly on power and cooling infrastructure to drive efficiency is only half the battle, however. Lately, an entire industry has built up around the idea that facilities and data management should work hand-in-hand to drive down energy costs without hampering productivity. According to 451 Research, Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) is on track to become a $1.3 billion business by 2015, representing nearly 40 percent annual growth. By that time, nearly 60 percent of enterprises will have deployed DCIM in some fashion, according to Gartner.

But while most vendors are anxiously pushing green technologies as the wave of the future, in other ways they are hampering those efforts. As eWeek's Steve McCaskill pointed out recently, not only are CIOs hit with barrages of confusing or downright misleading product information, but many vendors place conditions on operating environments and other requirements that prevent more efficient operations. A prime example is ambient operating temperature, which, if left too high, could void the warranty in servers and other systems. Currently, standards call for a maximum environment of 80.6 degrees F, although some experts say that could be raised as high as 113 F.

As I said, the road to greater efficiency is wide and straight, but the lanes are sometimes narrow and winding, making it difficult to find the most effective and, yes, efficient path to lower costs and improved operations. The data center has become the poster child of energy consumption run amok, so the world is watching how it handles itself in the age of conservation.

If the industry were to give up on efficient solutions now, it might not be long before one is thrust upon it from the outside.

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