Pressure is mounting on data centres to ‘go green’ in order to reduce their carbon footprint, explains Sean Sheehan, Wisetek CEO.
A few years ago there was a study which tried to estimate the carbon footprint of doing a single Google search. While it made the headlines, it was generally dismissed as being too alarmist and not scientific. Also, while we don’t mind walking to work to help save the planet, the idea of giving up Google was a little absurd.
Since then, energy rating has become a hot topic, not just for home appliances and PCs, but for data centres too. As people increase the number of devices they have, the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), and as businesses move to the cloud, the data centres boom is being fuelled, in general, by old-fashioned coal.
While it may be hard to estimate the carbon footprint of searching online, it has become easy to figure out the energy consumption of data centres. Back in 2016, a report by Berkeley Lab stated that in the U.S. data centres amounted for 2% of energy consumption.
Another report from Forbes in 2017 estimated that U.S. data centres use more than 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year; the equivalent of 34 500 megawatt coal-powered plants. As for global data centres, they account for 3% of total electricity.
It should be no surprise that this consumption will double every four years.
Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM)
So, how has the industry responded?
According to Gartner, Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) is at the forefront of its green revolution.
DCIM tools monitor, measure, manage and/or control data centre utilisation and energy consumption of all IT-related equipment. This includes servers, storage and network switches, and facility infrastructure components such as power distribution units (PDUs) and computer room air conditioners.
The aim of DCIM is that you take in all aspects of a data centre – from the cabinet/rack level to its cooling infrastructure – and bring together what traditionally would have been standalone functions. Only by integrating and examining the entire data centre you can maximise its efficiency and minimise its carbon footprint.
When running a data centre, the single biggest part of the total cost of ownership (TCO) is on energy costs, which can range from 20% to 60% depending on the model.
Therefore, the physical location of a data centre is often a key choice. By using ‘free air cooling’ i.e. using the cool air of Sweden or Ireland, avoids the use of mechanical cooling. The ideal is to use a hybrid model and to only rely on mechanical air cooling when the outside temperatures become too high, yet this is not as simple as it sounds.
Outside air must be filtered: a high moisture level in the air can rust metal, and a low level of moisture can cause issues with static electricity. The cost of such filtration must be considered when choosing your location.
Wind power is also being utilised for data centres, and can help meet environment requirements. However there are obvious drawbacks in terms of space required to locate your windfarm.
Low power servers
Technology companies are responding by creating low power servers. Typically these reduce power consumption from 20kW per rack down to around 5kW, and if such servers are ‘cold stored’ then their consumption can be as low as 1kW.
The cloud not only offers cost savings, but there is a lower carbon footprint as CPU utilisation is higher. Using a shared public cloud means that you only use the power which you need at any one moment; if you need to scale, the cloud provider does it for you, and you do not have to have you own racks on standby.
Also, cloud providers are often designing their data centres as ‘high-density modular’ designs which can be quickly rolled out and use the latest low-energy features, such as air cooling. The consolidation of cloud providers will only lower energy usage, as pressure is on them, and not the consumers of data, to reduce consumption.
IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) and the ‘Carbon Circle’
How we consume data also defines the greening of the data centre. The advent of IoT, GPS, smart appliances, streaming…such usage requires that our data is quickly accessible and in physical proximity to the end user.
Supplying data quickly requires more power, more power requires more consumption. It is a vicious ‘carbon circle’ that will see companies employ a green IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) strategy which will focus on disposing of assets which are draining too much energy, while reusing any efficient parts.