Expert Advice

Reducing carbon emissions leads to carbon-neutral services

The data centre industry is the second largest contributor to ever-increasing carbon emissions in Europe, ranking just below the aviation industry. According to the EU code of conduct for data centres, Western Europe emitted 56 terawatt-hours in 2007, projected to rise to 104 TWh in 2020.

Because climate change, carbon emissions and sustainable energy are a constant point of discussion among governments, the issue of green energy needs to be addressed within the data centre industry. And, just as fundamental, elements of how the industry currently works need to change.

Is it impossible for a data centre to be green? No. It is quite doable, and what’s more, it can even save a company some money. There are several components of a data centre that use vast amounts of energy, but with clever engineering, an innovative approach and consideration of energy, data centres can be 100% carbon neutral.

Be carbon neutral with PUE

Next-generation data centres operate in a carbon-neutral way by applying efficient ways to keep IT equipment running at optimal operating temperatures. Ongoing innovation is enabling data centre industry companies to further improve on

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power usage effectiveness (PUE), in many cases lowering their number to 1.2. This is not trivial; it is 50% to 80% more efficient than traditional data centres. Better energy efficiency translates into reduced carbon dioxide emissions and a lower energy bill for customers. 

Industry body The Green Grid uses a framework to ensure that all readings are as accurate as possible. Of course, as energy consumption changes with the seasons, carbon output changes for data centres. In the summer when temperatures are higher, more carbon output occurs, so it’s important to note that the PUE of a facility is an “average value.”  

Since data centres use such a substantial amount of electricity, the first step to carbon neutrality is sourcing energy from sustainable resources. There are ample companies offering renewable sources of energy, from biomass to hydroelectric and wind-energy power. 

Lower carbon emissions through data centre cooling techniques

Cooling down data centres and server rooms is, by far, the largest element of power consumption, which makes it the biggest concern when you’re looking to provide a green, carbon-neutral service. The design and technology used within a data centre is an important element with regards to cooling. The easiest way to improve efficiency in a data centre is to review its cooling methods.

Traditional data centres use a hugely inefficient method by cooling the entire server room to an optimum temperature for the servers. The recognition of this inefficiency has led to the creation of cold aisle corridors, an aisle of servers which is closed off with a roof and has sliding doors at either end, creating a fully sealed unit. By cooling only the isolated space, a cold corridor is created, which only cools the front of the servers, ensuring that air is pushed to the back of the racks and, therefore, reduces the amount of energy required.

To further reduce power consumption and lower carbon emissions in the process, many companies should consider the idea of free cooling. This is an economical method that uses low external air temperatures to assist in chilling the water, which is then used to chill the corridors.

Creating more efficient cooling methods, implementing innovative technology and updating data centres makes a greener service. Next-generation data centres are far more efficient than traditional buildings because energy consumption is a consideration in both concept and design.

Be carbon neutral with more efficient IT processes

As well as ensuring the data centre is energy efficient, it pays to also think about applying more efficient IT processes. After air conditioning and ventilation, power consumed by the IT infrastructure of customers is the third largest consumer of power. 

When looking for a data centre, people should look for a monthly billing service, which would give them insight into how much power individual racks are using. There is also technology that allows for detailed power management for individual servers in a rack. Knowledge about power consumption adds to administrators’ insight into energy inefficiency and allows them to solve potential problems.

Creating economic efficiencies goes hand in hand with sustainability and preserving the environment. Being more efficient in cooling your data centre not only helps reduce energy consumption and saves energy costs for customers but also lowers your carbon footprint and carbon emissions. Only data centres that achieve a balance between economic and environmental aspects can operate successfully in the long term and provide sustained value to customers.

In my view, any new data centre technology should be implemented in the most efficient way, with the view to saving energy as well as providing the best possible service. 

 

Eric Boonstra is the managing director of IT service provider EvoSwitch and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK.

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This was first published in May 2011

 

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