You won’t find many people these days who feel that the data center should be less green. Even those who don’t agree that the planet is truly in peril from global warming or pollution realize that reducing energy consumption lowers operating costs, which is good for business.
But while the enterprise has made dramatic strides in energy efficiency over the past decade or so, it seems that the momentum is slowing. As virtualization and consolidation take firm hold within data center infrastructure, the road from here seems a little less clear; most green technologies hitting the channel come with high upfront costs and hazy projections when it comes to their efficacy.
The Uptime Institute has taken note of this trend. A recent survey of data center operators found only half considered energy efficiency as a leading priority – down from 58 percent in 2011. The lack of green enthusiasm is particularly acute in small organizations, which generally have neither the expertise nor the resources to pursue highly aggressive energy strategies. With most of the low-hanging fruit in energy conservation already picked – things like server room reconfiguration and power management software deployment – many organizations seem willing to pass on higher-order measures like advanced air- or water-cooling or riskier practices like increased server intake temperatures.
To be sure, most data centers will start to use less energy by simply sticking to their regular hardware refresh cycles. New server, storage and networking technologies are loading up on low-power processors and other components as a matter of course – and the development curve is only just beginning. Dell, for instance, recently opened a new research center in Austin, Texas, devoted to green technologies for hyperscale data environments. And the company is forging ahead with the Project Mercury modular data center platform, with plans to incorporate energy-efficient technologies throughout its portfolio wherever possible.
As well, technologies like flash storage will help lower power consumption even though the primary goal is to increase throughput and overall performance. According to 451 Research, flash storage, cloud-level resiliency, Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) and prefab, modular infrastructure are poised to become the next major disruptors in the enterprise. But again, interest is low in green solutions like solar power or landfill energy recovery because they are seen as too unreliable and of unproven value.
Most of this applies to on-site data facilities, however. In the growing field of purpose-built data centers, in which the data environment is the business rather than a cost center in support of the business, advanced energy conservation measures are value-added features, particularly at newly built sites. Stream Data Centers recently received a LEED Gold Certification for its newest center in Richardson, Texas, by virtue of its recycled and regionally sourced construction materials and on-site operating systems tailored around low carbon emissions and efficient use of power and water. The company is laying the groundwork for new facilities in Houston and San Antonio, as well.
Energy efficiency in the data center is a lot like cleaning the house: No matter how much time, money or effort you put into it, there’s always more to do. The fact is that demand for data is only set to increase, which means new resources will have to be provisioned no matter how efficient infrastructure becomes.
The good news for many enterprises today is that if cloud computing and infrastructure outsourcing take hold the way some analysts expect them to, it won’t be long before all of these green headaches are someone else’s problem.