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Save the Planet by Outsourcing to a Data Center Facility

Saving the planet
May 6, 2016
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It’s not just the benefits of colocation that are driving more organizations to outsource portions of their IT responsibilities. Increasingly, it’s a greener option as well. Many companies lack the budget for investing in the latest energy efficient equipment and practices. Nor do they have the resources to build their own state-of-the-art, “green” data centers. It’s far more cost effective to move some of their IT infrastructure to data centers that already have made these investments and are employing best practices for sustainability and energy efficiency.

Still, as Kermit the Frog famously said, “It’s not easy being green.” That holds especially true for data centers. According to an often-cited industry statistic, they are responsible for close to two percent of U.S. energy consumption.

That’s not surprising given that they run and maintain numerous computer systems, servers and associated high-performance components. Protecting this equipment requires the use of energy-intensive air conditioning systems, fire suppression systems, redundant/backup power supplies, redundant Internet connections and high-security systems. Even data centers that support cloud infrastructure are not immune. While the cloud increases server utilization, giving IT departments the ability to cut down on excess server hardware and at the same time increase service catalogues, it is still ultimately powered by electricity.

The Challenges

Therein lie some of the problems that data centers face in greening up their operations. Measuring energy efficiency and usage is extremely complex because there are many facets to it.

Is an increase in data center energy consumption offset by the energy savings customers realize through colocation or moving their data to the cloud? Is it better to replace data center equipment with more efficient models, even if doing so expands another company’s carbon footprint (defined as the carbon emissions equivalent of the total amount of electricity a particular data center facility consumes) because it has to manufacture that equipment? And what happens to the old equipment? Even if it’s ultimately recycled in some manner, doesn’t that require energy consumption? How do you measure the tradeoffs?

The Complexity

In addition, tools for modeling energy management and heat transfer are complex and costly. There is a lack of agreement on the metrics to use as well. While the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric is considered the standard for measuring data center energy efficiency, many consider it a poor measure of data center energy efficiency and of data center facility’s green credentials.

Information technology (IT) equipment energy use itself is difficult to forecast, and with computer technology evolving so rapidly, energy-saving techniques must be updated continuously to keep up.

The Little Things

Let’s not forget that data centers must operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week while providing agreed upon response times and storing a virtually unlimited amount of data. It takes a lot of energy to pull that off.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for data centers to reduce energy consumption, increase efficiency and minimize overall carbon footprint.

In fact, it is often the little things that can make the biggest impact on a data center’s energy efficiency. That includes shifting from rack servers to less power-hungry blade servers; the use of virtualization, which allows multiple operating systems to run on a single machine; and “thin client” PCs that draw far less power than conventional desktops. Modern cooling technologies and more efficient AC systems also help minimize power use, as does just simply turning off lights when not in use.

The Drivers

Does any of this really matter to the customer that chooses a particular data center for colocation or cloud services? Definitely. A lack of energy efficiency in a data center translates into higher operating costs, which likely get transferred to its customers. An increasing number of customers are also looking to lower their carbon footprints. If you are among them, don’t you expect your vendors to do the same?

The Peak 10 Way

At Peak 10, efforts to green up our data centers involve a variety of energy efficiency best practices, some of which go into the building of our facilities while others are part of our daily actions. We work to promote a greener way of thinking, acting and working by making being environmentally conscious our standard way of doing business. The tactics vary from data center to data center but include:

• The reference to ASHRAE thermal guidelines when developing our newest data centers to optimize interior temperatures while reducing power consumption for cooling.

• Variable-frequency drives (VFDs) on the air-cooled chillers to improve their efficiency by reducing the rotational speed of a compressor in response to off-peak, lower-load conditions. This reduced rotational speed means the compressor does not have to work as hard, so the chiller consumes far less power during off-peak conditions.

• VFDs are also used on the pumps to only pump the necessary amount of fluid and generate very little wasted energy.

• Air conditioning units equipped with unloaders to provide four-step capacity control, allowing the units to run at as low as 25% capacity.

• Computer room air conditioning units equipped with variable-speed fan drives (VSDs) to help save energy when data center loads fluctuate.

• Shutting down of all compressors in some data centers on cool days, and using the outside cool air.

• Cold/hot aisle containment, which uses physical barriers to reduce the mixing of cold air in data center supply aisles with the hot air in their exhaust aisles. This results in lower energy consumption and more efficient cooling.

• Raised floor designs with conditioned air provided under the floor and dispersed up into the room through diffuser tiles or blowers to ensure even cooling with minimal wasted energy.

• Eliminating cooling bypass valves in the data center facility once we are under reasonable load to increase efficiency.

• Simple data center enhancements such as strip doors, row caps and floor tile cuts fitted with “cold-lock” air locks to maintain a high level of air conditioning efficiency.

• The use of rack blanking panels to eliminate gaps in the server racks and create a contained server rack environment, which helps increase usable cooling unit capacity and maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the cooling infrastructure.

• Virtualization technology to minimize the number of physical servers and resulting power consumption needed to run out our IT infrastructure.

• The installation of UPS systems rated at 90% plus efficiency.

• Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis to track where cold air losses occur.

• Efficient lighting ballasts including motion-activated lights and a “lights out at night” policy.

• Some of the roofs are covered with a white mastic to reduce heat load, which has resulted in up to a 16 degree temperature difference.

These are just a few of the measures we are taking to improve our overall energy efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint. Our engineers are routinely researching other methods we can deploy. We know it’s what our customers want ─ and we know it’s good for our planet too.

Learn more about sustainability and energy efficiency practices and how Peak 10 can help create an effective IT solution tailored to your unique business needs by contacting us at http://www.peak10.com/contact-us/contact or downloading our Sustainability Data Sheet.

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About Peak 10

"Our values are the foundation for everything we do at Peak 10, and are ultimately what enable us to earn our customers' business and their trust."
David H. Jones,
Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest