Currently, the average data centre is estimated to consume over 100 times the power of a large commercial office building and with consumption rapidly increasing the data centre industry is showing no signs of slowing down. It is predicted that by 2020, approximately 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created by every human on the planet each second.
In addition to the strain on global electricity supply, increased data consumption is contributing to climate change through centre carbon emissions and water wastage from data centres. It is important for data centre managers to take responsibility for the growing impact their industry has on the planet by implementing sustainable power management practices.
Benefits to the Data Centre
Aside from the environmental benefits of sustainable power management, there are also a range of commercial advantages for businesses. Most apparent is the direct cost saving associated with improved operating efficiency. Although implementing new infrastructure and procedures requires initial capital expenditure, these changes will lead to power efficiencies that will cut long term operating costs. Additionally, governments often offer tax incentive schemes to encourage businesses to implement green initiatives, so there are also savings available here.
Additionally, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with the social responsibility of the brands they engage with, opting for brands that make a positive contribution to real world issues. Therefore, by adopting a sustainable approach to power management, companies can benefit from a more favourable brand image.
Steps to Sustainable Power Management
The steps required to improve sustainability will differ for each data centre depending on the current design, infrastructure and processes. However, there are 5 key points to be addressed when assessing data centre sustainability.
The first step to improving energy efficiency is ensuring measures have been set in place to monitor power usage. It is critical for data centre managers to know the exact capacity of each system and its current power usage in order to facilitate planning for future power requirements. Without an accurate knowledge of capacity and usage there is an increased risk that adding to the system will overload the circuit resulting in unnecessary and costly downtime.
As well as having a knowledge of power capacity and usage within the data centre it is important to understand measurements being reported in order to accurately identify high power users and system inefficiencies.
Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) is a standard metric for measuring data centre efficiency and is determined by dividing the amount of power supplied to the data centre by the amount of power used to run all IT infrastructure within the data centre. From this measurement data centre managers can identify any inefficiencies in infrastructure that is draining power capacity.
New technologies are constantly being developed to support sustainable power management, which is why it is important to upgrade systems regularly to improve efficiency. For instance, one of the biggest culprits of data centre inefficiency is cooling. Water is a much more efficient conductor of heat than air meaning less water is needed than air to absorb the same amount of heat, in turn reducing waste and speeding up the cooling process.
Consolidation strategies are also a great way of creating efficiencies within a data centre Data virtualisation enables data centres to consolidate physical operating systems, servers and storage devices onto virtual locations in turn freeing up physical storage space. As systems are centralised, they are also much easier to maintain.
The location of a data centre can have a huge impact on the efficiencies it benefits from. For instance, data centres located in hotter climates may require cooling systems to run continuously in order to ensure servers and other hardware do not overheat. The amount of power required to keep cooling systems running will put a huge strain on the power usage efficiency of the data centre.
Alternatively, companies can opt to build data centres in cooler locations such as the Nordics, where cooling systems will only need to be used intermittingly or not at all. This will allow data centres to reduce inefficient power usage and costs associated with the running of data centre cooling systems.
If a co-location facility is being used, it is important to consider the Power usage efficiency of the whole facility and the potential impact on performance for your company
As previously discussed, data consumption is increasing at a rapid rate, making it is near impossible for data centre managers to accurately predict future power requirements. The typical data centre lifespan is 10-15 years in contrast to the typical 2-5-year lifespan of IT equipment, therefore flexibility for system upgrades is critical to data centre success.
Traditional data centre design lacks the flexibility to keep up with industry growth and requires every power outlet to be pre planned. This often results in a system that reaches capacity and requires costly changes to increase capacity, or often the data centre is overbuilt to cope with potential future power demands – In turn wasting power.
Modular power solutions can provide data centres with the ability to deliver large amounts of power within a small footprint and quick turnaround - With flexibility to add to the system and upscale power capacity. This gradual approach to expansion helps to minimise costs and wastage as the system will be tailored to support current power usage without the need to purchase extra power capacity up front as a contingency. Additionally, modular systems are much more energy efficient than traditional electrical rooms as cooling system controls are pre-engineered for better integration.
Busbar trunking systems trump conventional cable every time when it comes to sustainable data centre design. The compact design requires less space than cables to transmit the same about of power, which is a major advantage when large amounts of power are being distributed through a data centre. The low impedance design of busbar also reduces resistance resulting in less power being wasted in transmission.
E+I Engineering’s Intelligent Medium Powerbar is an open channel busway system designed for use in data centres and other mission critical environments. Tap off boxes can be connected at any point along the busway eliminating the need for expensive installation costs for new power outlets. Tap off boxes can also be easily added or repositioned along the busway to adapt to changes in power usage. Advanced metering capabilities allow the user to monitor, integrate and display data centre power information via RJ45 Ethernet plug-in connections, final circuit monitoring is integrated into the busway to measure the total load of the busbar and tap off units.
Researchers have predicted that the data centre sector could be using 20% of all available electricity in the world by 2025. This staggering statistic reinforces the need for businesses to actively enforce sustainable power management practices.
Facebook have been extremely proactive in their approach to sustainable power management, using wind energy to power 100% of their Dublin data centre. Whilst using 100% renewable energies to power a data centre would incur a significant initial investment, a more graduall adoption could be implemented to work towards improving power sustainability.