Implementing Sustainable Data Center Practices, Part II
In my first article on sustainable data center practices, I discussed the possibility that most organizations can benefit from at least some green data center strategies without compromising corporate growth or IT reliability.
Energy and Atmosphere & Materials and Resources
It is important that architects, specifying engineers, designers, building owners and others understand what their business does today could have a lasting effect on future generations. Sustainable systems preserve and promote the long-term well-being of our planet’s environment, inhabitants and natural resources by avoiding waste and limiting production of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants. As data centers have the potential to consume vast amounts of resources, environmental concerns should play a large role in new data center construction and major renovations of older ones.
The LEED Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in seven areas:
- Sustainable sites
- Water efficiency
- Energy and atmosphere
- Materials and resources
- Indoor environmental quality
- Innovation and design
- Regional Credits
Please visit my other previous articles for background on understanding data center sustainability, a synopsis on the difficulties of going green in the data center, and for an overview of available methods to achieve LEED credits in the areas of sustainable sites and water efficiency. The following sections discuss the next two areas of LEED green building certification: energy and atmosphere, and materials and resources.
Energy and atmosphere
One of the most direct and effective ways to enhance a data center’s sustainability is by reducing power and cooling usage. Strategies for reducing energy consumption include the following:
Utilize high-efficiency IT equipment: The latest servers, storage hardware and communication gear are significantly more power efficient than comparable models made as recently as a few years ago. Upgrading to such products, either immediately or during your next replacement cycle, can help you save money on electricity and lighten your impact on the environment.
Deploy energy-efficient power systems: Many data centers today rely on aging UPSs. Replacing them with newer models is a low-risk, relatively low-cost way to decrease energy waste. In the 1990s, a typical UPS was generally only about 80 to 82 percent efficient under standard loading conditions. Today’s models, however, routinely achieve 92 to 95 percent efficiency, and newer technology UPS systems with advanced energy saving capabilities can achieve up to 99 percent efficiency.
Deploy Hot or Cold Aisle containment:
Hot Aisle and Cold Aisle containment are often used to increase not only the efficiency, also the effectiveness of data center cooling systems. Hand in hand with Aisle Containment is proper rack hygiene, the practice of minimizing air leakage and mixing of hot and cold air streams in the data center. There have been many documented cases where deploying Aisle Containment strategies have allowed higher densities per rack while at the same time allowing customers to shut down Computer Room Air Conditioners (CRAC).
Use variable frequency drives and electronically commutated fans: Most organizations make less use of their servers at night and on weekends than they do during business hours. Yet their air handling system distributes cool air at precisely the same rate all week long. Variable frequency drives save energy by enabling air handling systems to run slower when servers require less cooling and faster when workloads are at their peak. Similarly, electronically commutated fans use “intelligent” motors to run faster or slower as needed based on airflow demand. Both technologies often reduce energy bills enough to pay for themselves within a few years.
Leverage renewable energy sources: Some cutting-edge data centers are beginning to supplement or even replace traditional power generation sources with renewable energy such as solar and wind. For example, colocation and hosting provider AISO.net operates a 100 percent solar-powered data center in Romoland, Calif.
Similarly, managed infrastructure provider Green House Data maintains a 10,000 square foot facility in Cheyenne, Wyo., that runs primarily on wind power. Thanks to their innovative power sources, both facilities have a smaller carbon footprint and lighter environmental impact than conventional data centers.
Materials and resources
Organizations can augment the sustainability of their data centers by utilizing servers, switches, power equipment and other infrastructure products that consume fewer resources, contain fewer environmentally hazardous substances, last longer and can be disposed of safely. Eaton, for example, is actively working to reduce the amount of steel, copper, varnish and lead solder in its products. Look for products that are SMaRT (Sustainable Materials Rating Technology) certified.
Additionally, companies can employ a variety of methods to extend the life of traditional lead acid UPS battery systems, which contain lead oxide and sulfate as well as highly toxic sulfuric acid. A typical medium UPS battery may contain up to 3,000 lb./1,361 kg. of lead and 72 gallons/273 liters of sulfuric acid.
Companies can reduce their need for new batteries in ways as simple and cost-effective as purchasing preventive maintenance coverage or as complex as deploying a flywheel. A flywheel is a mechanical device typically built around a large rotating disk. During normal operation, electrical power spins the disk rapidly. When a power outage occurs, the disk continues to spin on its own, generating DC power that a UPS can use as an emergency energy source. As the UPS consumes that power, the disk gradually loses momentum, producing less and less energy until eventually it stops moving altogether.
Today’s flywheels have their limitations when compared to traditional batteries, as they typically deliver only 30 seconds of standby energy. However, they can be an excellent complement to batteries. A white paper with additional information on emerging alternative energy storage devices is available here.
Leverage Virtualization and Cloud Computing:
Virtualization is the ability to increase utilization of physical servers computing power. Or stated in another way, decrease the amount of servers needed for the same amount of computing. In essence the virtualization software platform decouples hardware from software OS and applications. The result is that the number of physical servers (called hosts) can be consolidated. The extent of server consolidation varies depending on hardware technologies, software platforms, and applications being virtualized. Typical consolidation ratios could be 4:1 or 8:1. Technologies also exist to virtualize desktops, storage, and networking.
Virtualization is a powerful tool and most organizations are taking advantage of this technology. IT architecture does become more complicated and as a result requires some extra planning.
There are many sound reasons for wanting a greener data center, realizing that goal cost effectively is easier said than done. Just the same, most organizations can benefit from at least some green strategies in some circumstances without compromising corporate growth or IT reliability.
Although some sustainability strategies, such as integrating solar energy generation, are still experimental and require heavy upfront investments, most are proven, cost-effective and relatively simple. In my next column, I will continue to help you achieve both the tangible and significant benefits of sustainable data center operation and construction, as I explore LEED-based recommendations for indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.
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