Feature

Green data centres – Essential Guide

Green data centres have been on the increase over the past few years, and there are a number of ways to make your data centres more environmentally friendly, through the use of energy efficient technology and servers and systems that require less power.

What are the benefits of green data centres?

Green data centres that are more energy efficient will, first of all, benefit the environment, because they draw less power and require less energy to be produced.

As a result, data centre components are able to run more efficiently and require less cooling, and this in turn draws less power overall.

From an IT director’s perspective, energy efficient data centres can lead to lower cost data centres, as fuel bills fall and machines fail less frequently, and even take up less space.

Can you tell how green your data centre is?

It is difficult to calculate how green your data centre is, and for many IT managers, it just isn’t a priority.

Added to this, data centre operations are complex and varied. The fluctuating demand on individual server components can change the energy efficiency of that machine, from the power supply to the processor or the memory.

As a result, it is hard to create a truly green data centre environment. Everything requires power and some degree of cooling, and as such, creates a significant carbon footprint.

Research has also shown that few data centre managers know how much power their data centres are using.

This makes it difficult for them to come up with a well-constructed plan to optimise power consumption and enhance their "green" credentials.

Even those who have access to the power bill do not seem to have any granular breakdown of how that power is being used. With data centres representing the greatest energy spend for most large organisations, such a lack of visibility does need to be tackled.

What parts of a data centre can be greened?

Many PCs, screens and power supplies have already had the green treatment.

But it is also possible to procure and use a range of data centre equipment that is considered to be energy efficient.

These days, more and more servers, storage, power supply and networking products are designed with the environment in mind. Even the separate components in a server can be built to high standards of energy efficiency.

What about the Energy Star rating system?

Manufacturers use the Energy Star rating system to indicate the energy efficiency of monitors, PCs and consumer appliances.

In December 2006, the US government, which manages the rating, turned its attention to data centres. It calculated that US businesses could save up to $4 billion annually in electricity costs if they used more energy-efficient data centre equipment.

As a result, the rating has recently been extended to cover data centre equipment including servers, and eventually storage and networking products.

As well as the Energy Star rating system, servers and other data centre equipment adhere to are other certified standards that indicate how eco-friendly they are.

What sorts of green technologies can be used in the data centre?

Green data centres can make use of more efficient storage, better power facilities, and alternative power sources.

They can even make more use of multi-core processors and virtualisation to maximise their use of existing hardware.

The latter two technologies can reduce the number of systems requiring separate power supplies while making operations more efficient by dividing tasks among and within multiple processors in each server computer.

How about outsourcing your data centre?

Many companies, that have previously hosted their own data centres, have chosen to outsource their data centre. As such, they have come to rely on a facility managed off-site by a service provider, or located in a collocation centre.

As a result, companies can require that their outsourcing providers create green data centres, which conserve energy and use efficient hardware – not least to help to lower the customer’s costs.

One hosting company that has built a green data centre is Rackspace.

The data centre is powered by renewable energy sources, and draws power from a local combined heat and power plant that uses wood chips, waste paper and fibre fuel to generate electricity, hot water and steam.


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This was first published in July 2009

 

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