How Green is Your Data Center?

Data Center “X” just announced a 2 MegaWatt expansion to their facility in Northern California. A major increase in data center capacity, and a source of great joy for the company. And the source of potentially 714 additional tons of carbon introduced each month into the environment.

Think Green and EfficientMany groups and organizations are gathering to address the need to bring our data centers under control. Some are focused on providing marketing value for their members, most others appear genuinely concerned with the amount of power being consumed within data centers, the amount of carbon being produced by data centers, and the potential for using alternative or clean energy initiatives within data centers. There are stories around which claim the data center industry is actually using up to 5% of power consumed within the United States, which if true, makes this a really important discussion.

If you do a “Bing” search won the topic of “green data center,” you will find around 144 million results. Three times as many as a “paris hilton” search. That makes it a fairly saturated topic, indicating a heck of a lot of interest. The first page of the Bing search gives you a mixture of commercial companies, blogs, and “ezines” covering the topic – as well as an organization or two. Some highlights include:

With this level of interest you might expect just about everybody in the data center industry to be aggressively implementing “green data center best practices.” Well, not really. In the past month the author (me!) toured not less than six commercial data centers. In every data center I saw major best practices violations, including:

  • Large spacing within cabinets forcing hot air recirculation (not using blanking panels, as well as loose PCs and tower servers placed adhoc within a cabinet shelf)
  • Failure to use Hot/Cold aisle separation
  • High density cabinets using open 4 post racks
  • Spacing in high density server areas between cabinets
  • Failure to use any level of hot or cold air containment in high density data center spaces, including those with raised floors and drop-ceilings which would support hot air plenums

And other more complicated issues such as not integrating the electrical and environmental data into a building management system.

The Result of Poor Data Center Management

The Uptime Institute developed a metric called Power Utilization Efficiency (PUE) to measure the effectiveness of power usage within a data center. The equation is very simple, the PUE is the total facility powe3r consumption divided by the amount of power actually consumed by either internal IT equipment, or in the case of a public data center customer-facing or revenue-producing energy consumed. A factor of 2.0 would indicate for every watt consumed by IT equipment, another watt is required by support equipment (such as air conditioning, lighting, or other).

Most data centers today consider a target value of 1.5 good, with some companies such as Google trying to drive their PUE below 1.2 – an industry benchmark.

Other data centers are not even at the point where they can collect meaningful PUE data. The previous Google link has an extended description of data collection methodology, which is a great introduction to the concept. The Uptime Institute of course has a large amount of support materials. And a handy Bong search reveals another 995,000 results on the topic. No reason why any data center operator should be in the dark or uniformed on the topic.

So let’s use a simple PUE example and carbon calculation to determine the effect of a poor PUE:

Let’s start with a 4 MW data center. The data center currently has a PUE of 3.0, meaning of the 4 MW of power consumed within the data center 3MW are consumed by support materials, and 1MW by actual IT equipment. In California, using the carbon calculator, this would return 357 tons of carbon produced by the IT equipment and 1071 tons of carbon produced by support equipment such as air conditioning, lights, poorly maintained electrical equipment, etc., etc., etc…

1071 tons of carbon each month, possibly generated by waste which could be controlled through better design, management, and operations in our data centers. Most commercial data centers are in the 4~10MW range. Scary.

The US Department of Energy recently did an audit entitled “Department of Energy Efforts to Manage Information technology in an Energy-Efficient and Environmentally Responsible Manner,” which highlights the fact even tightly regulated agencies within the US Government have ample room for improvement.

“We concluded that Headquarters programs offices (which are part of the Department of Energy’s Common Operating Environment) as well as field sites had not developed and/or implemented policies and procedures necessary to ensure that information technology equipment and supporting infrastructure was operated in an energy-efficient manner and in a way that minimized impact on the environment.” (OAS-RA-09-03)

What Can We Do?

The easiest thing to do is quickly replace all traditional lighting with low power draw LED lamps, and only use the lamps when human beings are actually within the data center space working. Lights generate a tremendous amount of heat, and consume a tremendous amount of electricity. Heat=air-conditioning load if that wasn’t already obvious. Completely wasted power, and completely unnecessary production of carbon. If you are in a 10,000sqft data center, you may have 100 lighting fixtures in the room. Turn them off.

If your data center requires security cameras 24×7, consider using dual-mode cameras that have low light vision capability.

Place blanking panels in all cabinets. Considering removing all open racks from your data center unless you are using them for passive cabling, cross-connects, or very low power equipment. Consider using hot or cold aisle containment models for your cabinet lineups. Lots of debate on the merits of hot aisle containment vs. cold aisle containment, but the bottom line is that cool air going into a server makes the server run better, reduces the electrical draw on fans, and increases the value of every watt applied to your data center.

Consider this – if you have 10 servers using a total of 1920 watts (120v with a 20 amp breaker <at 16 amps draw>), that gives you the potential of running those 10 servers at full specification draw. That includes internal fans which start as needed to keep internal components cool enough to operate within equipment thresholds. If the server is running hot, then you are using your full 192 watts per server. If the server is running with cool air on the intake side, no hot air recirculation producing heat on the circuit boards, then you can reasonably expect to reduce the electrical draw on that component.

If you are able to reduce the actual draw each server consumes by 30~40% by removing hot air recirculation and keeping the supply side cool, then you may be able to add additional servers to the cabinet and increase your potential processing capacity for each breaker and cabinet by another 30~40%. This will definitely increase your efficiency, cost you less in electricity and power, give you additional processing potential.

Sources of Information

Quite a few sources of information, beyond the Bing search are available to help IT managers and data center managers. APC probably has the most comprehensive library of white papers supporting the data center discussion (although like all commercial vendors, you will see a few references to their own hardware and solutions). HP also has several great, and easy to understand white papers, including one of the best reviewed entitled “Optimizing facility operation in high density data center environments” – a step-by-step guide in deploying an efficient data center.

The Bing search will give you more data than you will ever be able to absorb, however the good news is that it is a great way to read through individual experiences, including both success stories and horror stories. Learn through other’s experiences, and start on the road to both reducing your carbon footprint, as well as getting the most out of your data center or data center installation.

Give us your opinions and experiences designing and implementing the green data center – leave a comment and let others learn from you too!

John Savageau, Long Beach

October Means Energy Awareness – What’s Your Carbon Footprint?

I drive a 2004 Ford Mustang with a little “6 Banger” giving me the illusion of driving a sports car. Using the Carbon Footprint Calculator my annual carbon footprint driving the Mustang at 15,000 miles is 6.99 tons. Having used (according to my SoCal Edison bill) 323kWh of electricity during the last billing period, I could be charged for an additional .09 tons of carbon. Looking at the footprint generating from a month of using Metro Rail to go to and from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles the footprint adds, well it adds almost nothing.

Fossil Fuels - OilNow I probably use a lot less electricity than the average person, so my electrical carbon load is not too bad. My Mustang is a pig, but not as big a pig as say, an Escalade, which would be almost twice as dirty as the Mustang. Versus a Prius, which would produce 3.2 tons of carbon, I don’t fare so well.

Anyway you look at it, it is a lot of carbon, all finding its way into the environment, ozone, oceans – anyplace carbon can fly or die into the planet.

October is the International Month of Energy Awareness. The US Department of Energy reminds us that “no matter how large the problem may appear, the fact remains that each of us is a part of the solution.” Is it cute political rhetoric, or is it something we need to seriously consider? Do we need to think about “switching off unnecessary lights and equipment, using efficient ENERGY STAR® products and compact fluorescent light bulbs, and driving fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles?”

You bet.

Energy Awareness Month has been around since about 1981, when it was a mere Energy Awareness Week. In 1986 a few forward looking folks in the Department of Energy pushed to extend this week of awareness to a month long campaign envisioned to aggressively bring energy awareness to all Americans. Now, withCarbon Spewing from Factory the rest of the world, including our fellow Americans, awakening to the realities of global warming, carbon impacts on the environment, and the risks/dangers of living in an energy inefficient world, Energy Awareness Month is finally getting its time in the spotlight.

Carbon Footprints in the Home

The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) provides some great guidelines and ideas for creating energy efficiency within the home. For those cretins who do not find that interesting, the same “green” thinking is also translated into monthly savings in utility and other energy fees through simple things we can do at home to use less electricity – and still maintain a high quality of life.

Have you heard of the Energy Star program?

ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.

For the Home

Energy efficient choices can save families about a third on their energy bill with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions, without sacrificing features, style or comfort. ENERGY STAR helps you make the energy efficient choice.

  • If looking for new household products, look for ones that have earned the ENERGY STAR. They meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and US Department of Energy.
  • If looking for a new home, look for one that has earned the ENERGY STAR.
  • If looking to make larger improvements to your home, EPA offers tools and resources to help you plan and undertake projects to reduce your energy bills and improve home comfort.

Starting to sound a bit more interesting?

The CEE goes on to reinforce cooperation between the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, NEMA, utilities such as SoCal Edison and PG&E (look at their websites for some great ideas, rebate programs, and general energy information), and gives a good listing of areas that we should look at in the home to become more energy aware (and save money for the rest of you folks), including:

  • Super-Efficient Home Appliance Initiative (SEHA)  SEHA establishes “super-efficient” efficiency levels for refrigerators, room air-conditioners, clothes washers and dishwashers. By promoting products that meet these specifications, SEHA complements the ENERGY STAR® Appliance Program and encourages manufacturers to increase efficiency levels.
  • High-Efficiency Residential Lighting Initiative  The objective of this initiative is to increase the availability and acceptance of energy-efficient lighting (including fixtures), and create a self-sustaining market for this technology.
  • Whole House  The “whole-house” approach, which applies to new construction and existing homes, sees the house as a collection of interacting systems. The greatest promise of decreasing energy use while increasing health, comfort, and safety is to create a cross-disciplinary understanding of the fundamentals of these systems.
  • High-Efficiency Residential Central Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Initiative      This initiative promotes high-efficiency specifications and proper installation for central air conditioning and heat pumps. In 2007, CEE revised its Residential HVAC Installation Specification, a document that defines energy-efficient installation practices
  • High-Efficiency Gas Heating Initiative  By promoting high-efficiency specifications for gas furnaces and boilers, the initiative is increasing demand for this equipment. The proper installation of energy-efficient equipment is another key element of the program.
  • Consumer Electronics Initiative  CEE’s Consumer Electronics Initiative aims to increase the energy efficiency of consumer electronics, focusing on televisions, set top boxes, and computers. As part of this initiative, CEE provides support to members who are considering running efficiency programs in this area.

    Rolling in More Green Incentives
    The Pickens Plan website gives us further incentives to think about energy efficiency. In addition to the long, long listings of environmental reasons why we should not continue to trash our planet, the financial incentives to get “green” keep coming. Are you doing a DIY (do it yourself) upgrade to your house? Ka-Ching, possibly another $1500 tax credit.

    We discussed simple things in earlier posts like using solar-aware tiles on your roof. Which, if using the highest efficiency tiling materials could save a household in Phoenix up to 70% in the cost of cooling.

    A couple of interesting facts from Corning:

    • Adding efficient insulation in your home can save up to 20% on your cooling and heating bills
    • Turning your thermostat from 72deg (F) to 65deg can save 10% on heating bills
    • Using single pane windows can cause serious heating and cooling loss, possibly adding another 25% to your cooling and heating bills
    • Using energy efficient light bulbs can reduce your lighting bill by as much as 50%
    • Old appliances, such as refrigerators, ovens, dryers, and washers can account for 20% of your energy consumption – go to Energy Star appliances
    • Do you have a fireplace? An open damper, if left open, is about the same as leaving your front door open during the winter or hottest day of the summer

    Wow, that is a lot of potential savings.

    Just checked with my family in the nether lands of some remote outpost in Minnesota. The power usage is Energy Efficient Light Bulbaround 2450kWh in January this year. In an old house. 1.69 tons of carbon just from the electricity used in the house. If you add a small village like Duluth, MN, with a census of 90,000 people in 2000 (lots more now), and assume 4 persons per household, you will come up with roughly 22,500 households. If you take off 10% for my old inefficient childhood home, you will still get 1.53 tons per household.

    34,425 tons of carbon in January produced just by households in Duluth. We are not adding industrial buildings, commercial buildings, Superior (Wisc), the Port of Duluth, the taconite processing plants, etc., etc., etc., and you will see even quaint little Duluth is providing plenty of fuel for the north woods to use in their vocation of providing photosynthesis services for northern Minnesota.

    Now, if we could find a way to reduce that carbon footprint by around 40% just by changing a few things around the house and office – that is a huge carbon footprint savings. Oh yes, for you non-tree huggers out there it also represents a big bag full of money.

    Are you angry about this topic? For? Against? Weigh in. At least we are accomplishing our objective to help create improved energy awareness.

    Next time we’ll start chiming in on other related issues such as recycling, water conservation, and other fun topics that are nonetheless important to ensuring our next generations have a planet that will support and sustain a great quality of life for all.

    Happy Energy-Aware October!

    John Savageau, Long beach




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