Improving data centre power consumption and efficiency

Following the opening of hosting provider PEER 1's new data centre in Toronto, the VP of data centre operations offers advice on why tackling energy issues should be a top priority in data centre planning.

Data centre power consumption remains an issue that is increasingly in the spotlight. Data centres chew through a huge amount of power on a daily basis, processing and storing information to the degree that the global data centre carbon footprint has been compared to that of air travel.

Today, there are a number of technologies available to help reduce the power needed to keep data centres optimised and running, ranging from smart use of natural resources to virtualisation and consolidation.

Energy efficiency in the data centre must be included in the data centre planning, strategy and building phases. With this in mind, there are a few things to consider to make your data centre as efficient and green as possible:

Which energy supplier? Research and choose the right one
Choosing an energy supplier is a major decision in controlling and managing a data centre's energy consumption. By researching suppliers and selecting one that can provide cleaner sources of energy, you can ensure your data centre runs on reliable, greener power that doesn't cost the earth. In the case of PEER 1 Hosting's most recent and largest data centre, we selected Toronto Hydro based on its responsible energy sourcing and competitive pricing.

The choice of energy supplier is a major decision in controlling and managing a data centre's energy consumption.


Ryan Murphey, VP Facilities and Data Centre Operations, PEER1,

How to lower cooling costs by using outside air
Cooling the data centre accounts for over 40% of total energy costs. Taking advantage of natural surroundings and reducing the impact of sunlight can have a big effect. In our Toronto data centre, PEER 1 uses a system activated by outside temperatures falling below 10 degrees Celsius. When these conditions occur, air is drawn into cool water from a local well that in turn cools IT equipment in the facility.

This, combined with the use of redundant high-efficiency Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) centrifugal chillers and condenser towers outfitted with economisers, ensures that the data centre has "free cooling" 50-60% of the time. Harsh chemicals in cooling equipment are also avoided by using a specialist water treatment system.

Adapt existing structures rather than re-build
Adopting a "reuse" approach to data centre construction can provide a number of benefits. Initiatives to reuse existing structures, such as building shells as opposed to demolition, can often reduce construction time and cost.

Changes to the existing structure need only be made if there is a functional or environmental reason. For example, at our Toronto site we modified the roof of the data centre to fit high-performance membranes that reflect UV rays and further reduce cooling requirements.

Plan space intelligently
Planning your data centre design ensures the most efficient use of space and avoids the over-utilisation of power and cooling. In Toronto, we separated the facility into four Performance Optimised Data Centres (PODs), each with the capacity for approximately 270 cabinets or 7,500 servers. Only once a POD has reached 89-90% capacity is another POD opened. This ensures that only the portion of the data centre that is actually needed is powered and allows us to reach maximum efficiency quicker on a per-POD basis instead of waiting to fill the entire data centre. The PODs can then scale to increase data centre capacity when demand requires.

Automated management systems
A building management system provides a clear and visible interface through which to manage a myriad of systems such as fire suppression, cooling, electrical systems, lighting and electricity feeds from the utility, electrical circuits and security systems.

These systems can be automated and closely controlled to conserve energy and allow technicians to remotely manage data centre power consumption from a single screen. Ultimately, management systems provide a complete view of power needs and enable proactive planning and monitoring to ensure efficient data centre power use.

Build Data Centre engery efficiency into procurement strategies
Data Centre energy efficiency can also be improved through the careful selection and procurement of IT equipment. Including the criteria as part of the procurement process ensures hardware performs well on both a technical and a green level. At PEER 1, we utilise Super Micro and Dell servers with Intel high-efficiency power supplies, fans and processors to reduce our total watts per server.

Recycle hardware waste
Finally, a recycling policy should underpin the data centre hardware re-fresh and replacement programme. We partner with a company that refurbishes and resells our old server hardware that we can't reuse internally.

If the hardware is unable to be resold, it is completely recycled so that nothing ends up in landfill. Our technicians are also encouraged to recycle instead of throw away and are able to re-invest the proceeds back into their own project teams.

Data centres are certainly a long way from becoming "green." There are, however, strategies and technologies available that over time can go some way to improving carbon footprints. By implementing these and taking advantage of next generation innovations, we can ensure that the industry is moving towards a greener future.

Ryan Murphey is the vice president of facilities and data centre operations at vendor-independent hosting provider PEER 1 and a contributor to

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