There are many data centers dotting the landscape. They have been popping up all over the place – and that will continue. Worldwide, the market for data center construction was at $14.59 billion in 2014 – when it was forecast to rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.3% to $22.73 billion by 2019.
Despite the incredible expansion in the number of data centers, there is actually good news when it comes to the amount of energy that is used by these facilities. In 2016, a landmark study was released – the first thorough analysis of American data centers in about 10 years. As reported in Data Center Knowledge, the study found that the demand for capacity skyrocketed between 2011 and 2016; but throughout that period, energy consumption hardly increased at all.
In 2014, the power fueling American data centers measured about the same as is used by 6.4 million residences annually: 70 billion kilowatt-hours. This finding suggests that electrical use at data centers rose just 4%. That’s nowhere near the rise between 2005 and 2010, when total power consumption grew by a shocking 24%. Actually, the percent increase was even more astronomical toward the beginning of the decade – 90%.
The amount of energy that is consumed by data centers would have grown much more aggressively if a focus on deploying efficiency improvements was not so fundamental to data center management in the last few years. In fact, the US Department of Energy study (in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, and Stanford) looked directly at this issue by reframing 2014’s consumption in terms of 2010’s efficiency. If the efficiency level stayed at the same level, 2014 would have seen 40 billion more kWh consumed than in 2010.
For the period from 2010 to 2020, improvements to the efficiency of power consumption will be responsible for cutting power consumption by 620 billion kWh, noted the study’s authors. The report projected a 4% rise in data center consumption from 2016 through 2020 – expecting for resource consumption to continue at the same growth rate. If that forecast is correct, total consumption would hit 73 billion kWh by that point.
It is amazing how efficient we have become that data centers could be growing so fast but hardly needing to draw any additional power (proportionally). One way that these facilities have become more efficient is through the use of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools. What is DCIM? How is it being integrated with other steps to bolster data center efficiency?
The basics on DCIM
It may sound like data center infrastructure management is referring to how you place controls and protocols on the machines – but it is broader than that. As the nexus of information technology and facilities-related concerns, DCIM encompasses such areas as utility consumption, space planning, and hardware consolidation.
The inception of DCIM was as a piece of building information modeling (BIM) environments. Facilities managers implement BIM tools to generate schematic diagrams for any building. A DCIM program allows you to do what is possible with a BIM within the context of the data center. This software enables real-time analysis, collation, and storage of data related to your power consumption. You can print out diagrams as needed, making it easier to conduct maintenance or deploy new physical machines.
DCIM and 5 other ways to improve data center efficiency
Despite the fact that extraordinary strides have been made in recent years related to efficiency, power is still a huge part of the bill. In fact, according to an August 2015 study published in Energy Procedia, approximately 40 cents out of every dollar spent by data centers goes toward energy costs.
Plus, the 4% rise is just one analysis. Figures from Gartner suggest that electrical costs are actually increasing at about 10% annually.
Since energy consumption has become such an important priority for data centers, standards have developed to improve it systematically. One of the most critical standardized elements of efficiency efforts is a metric called power usage effectiveness (PUE). Interestingly, Gartner research director Henrique Cecci noted that PUE is helpful as a broad figure on the status of energy efficiency within the elements of the data center; however, it does not reveal the more granular concern of how efficient the IT hardware is.
Cecci noted that if you want to use power as efficiently as possible, you will make the most significant impact by optimizing the electrical consumption of your IT hardware. Here are six key steps he suggested to make your data center more energy-efficient:
Step 1 – Collect information.
Carefully monitor how much electricity you consume. Adjust as you go.
Step 2 – Make sure your IT systems are efficiently organized.
What will ultimately consume the electricity is the IT systems. For that reason, you want to reduce the payload power that is consumed by the machines. Actually, servers gobble up 60% of the payload power. So that they will not use as much power, you can:
- Get rid of any unhelpful workloads.
- Consolidate virtual environments.
- Virtualize as many of your processes as possible.
- Clear out machines that are not “justifying their existence.”
- Get newer servers (since newer models are built with stronger efficiency technologies).
Step 3 – Make sure you are getting the most out of your space.
Data centers that were constructed in advance of the server virtualization era may have too much space, essentially, in terms of the hardware that is needed in the current climate. You can potentially improve your efficiency, then, with a new data center.
If you are designing a data center, an efficient approach is modular. That way you are sectioning the facility into these various modules, sort of like rooms of a house that can be revised and improved as units. Christy Pettey of Gartner called this approach to data center design “more flexible and organic.”
Step 4 – Improve the way you cool.
Cooling is a huge concern on its own, so it is important to use standardized methods such as:
- Economizers – By implementing air economizers, you can garner a better PUE. Throughout most of North America, you should be able to get 40 to 90% of your cooling from the outside air if you use these devices.
- Isolation – Contain the servers that are producing heat. Discard that heat from the data center, or (better yet) use it to heat other areas of the facility.
- Fine-tune your A/C. There are a couple trusted ways to allow an air conditioning system to be as efficient as possible. One is to shut it down occasionally, switching to a secondary cooling system such as an air optimizer. The other option is to fluctuate the air conditioning system’s speed as you go to lower total energy consumption.
Step 5 – Replace any inefficient equipment.
Your PUE can also be negatively impacted by power delivery systems that have been deployed for some time – such as transformers, power distribution units (PDUs), and uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs). Assess these systems regularly, and refresh as needed.
Step 6 – Implement DCIM software.
Launching a DCIM program will give you a huge amount of insight to become even more efficient. Pettey actually makes a comment that relates to that notion of DCIM being a nexus of IT and facilities-related concerns (above). “DCIM software provides the necessary link between the operational needs of the physical IT equipment and the physical facilities (building and environment controls),” she said.
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