The Green Data Center: Pursuing the Big Picture

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Reining in IT Energy Consumption

Many IT organizations don't account for energy costs when formulating their IT budgets and have little visibility into the true costs.

The quest for the ever-greener data center has long focused on more energy-efficient hardware and software platforms, both to lower consumption for actual data processing and lessen the resulting heat load.

Most of the these initiatives have one thing in common: They target energy use at individual facilities. This has been a problem for supporters of renewable energy in particular, who have faced resistance from those who say such sources are unreliable.

But what if we approached the problem from a broader perspective, say, by linking data centers together and driving efficiencies at the utility level? Is it possible that we could see not only greater conservation but improved service as well?

That's the thinking that has taken hold in Canada, which has launched the two-year GreenStar Network project designed to create a network of data facilities powered by renewable energy sources. The project is the brainchild of the Canadian Advanced Network and Research for Industry and Education, which aims to bring nothing less than the entire country's Internet service under the realm of green power.

The plan involves linking a number of green data centers, such as the new solar-powered facility in Calgary owned by Cybera, in such a way that they can all tap into each other's excess energy loads. In that way, reliable service should be maintained even on cloudy days when solar conversion is low or when a wind-generated system hits a calm period. Participants in the project would also earn carbon credits allowing them to maintain facilities in areas that can only be reliably served by traditional carbon sources of energy.

Focus on utility-based solutions is also gaining ground in the U.S., where more than $3.4 billion in federal economic stimulus money has been earmarked for "smart grid" technologies designed to better manage energy distribution. As Charles O'Donnell, VP of power engineering at Emerson Network's Liebert AC Power Business, points out, the transition should ultimately deliver improved energy reliability, lower costs and greater coordination between data centers and their utilities to help manage energy requirements in relation to data loads and other factors.

Already, some of the top energy firms in the country are starting to key in on data center energy consumption. GE recently expanded its relationship with smart grid firm SynapSense to incorporate its energy management software into the GE Intelligent Platform's Proficy Software stack. The combination is expected to deliver a 35 percent reduction in cooling costs by coordinating cooling capacity with IT loads through tools like real-time monitoring and reporting.

Utility-based energy management has been in effect for some time now, but only recently are we seeing it trend toward data center users in particular. That's the kind of service you get when you happen to be one of the biggest energy consumers on the planet.

Clearly, utility services will only be effective in combination with energy management practices at individual data centers. But at least with mechanisms in place to coordinate those individual measures, the enterprise industry as a whole should start to produce some truly significant savings relatively quickly.