Green data centers make business sense

By : |July 31, 2008 0

MUMBAI, INDIA: A lot has been spoken; written and talked about how the environment around us is being affected by the carbon footprint each of us creates.

This is all the more true for large organizations which are in growth mode and are investing in expanding their presence by building up data centers to run their businesses.

But while vendors touch upon the need to safeguard the environment one key message that they fail to hit home is that going green or becoming energy efficient actually makes business sense. There is a need to create an environment of accountability for every bit of resource used.

So what is a green data center? It can be described as a data center in which the mechanical, lighting, electrical and computer systems are designed for maximum energy efficiency and minimum environmental impact, according to Prasoon Srivastava, CEO, Ctrl S Datacentres.

As simple as 1, 2, 3?

There is no single technology that can drive green adoption in data centers. Said Sandeep Nair, MD, Emerson Network India, "To be truly green you have to start from the processors and work your way upwards to see how much heat is generated and how you can efficiently bring down the power that is used to run these equipment and the cooling used to keep them running."

The first step towards going green is to plan utilization of power sensibly. This can be best achieved by consolidating server, storage and network infrastructure.

This is also where companies need to think beyond traditional models of doing business and piggyback on alternative technologies. For instance, virtualization has been talked about for over than five years. But it need not be limited to storage alone; it can be extended to other aspects like server applications or as well.

Here is an interesting bit. For every 100KV of power used in a data center 60 percent of it is used to cool the equipment.

This means that just 30 percent is used for running the IT equipment! "The amount of power you can draw in a data center is fixed. So if a solution provider wants to grow the IT infrastructure, where does he get the power from?" asked Durgadutt Nedungadi, Director—Marketing & Alliances, HP (India).

The Green Grid Data Center Power Efficiency Metrics: PUE and DCiE study offered a fundamental measure of data center efficiency where the best way to determine the infrastructure efficiency of a data center was to calculate the ratio of the total power consumed by the facility infrastructure to the power used by the IT equipment load.

According to this study, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency (DCiE) are defined as follows: 

Building efficiency

 Over the past two years, it has been noted that facilities and IT have started working together to improve the efficiency of data centers. Initially both were working with their backs more or less to each other.

Today, organizations are trying to bring about efficiencies across the board; be it in the IT equipment, applications or policies.

But at the same time, it is ironical that often solution providers are not aware about the direct electricity cost of the equipment in a data center nor are they aware of the cost of cooling equipment in isolation. "This ignorance results in incorrect cost-optimization which in turn leads to misallocation of resources and energy waste in many traditional data centers," noted Srivastava.

This is illustrated by the results of a survey done by the Experton Group Study on Green IT that was released in November 2007.

It showed that of a sample of 98 surveyed companies 93 percent of the IT managers were unaware of the energy consumption in KW and Euro of the equipment in the data center.

When it comes to building efficiencies in the IT equipment, one has to start at the basics which means start with the processors and then work the way upwards.

Power consumption should also be checked at various levels to see how it can be controlled at different points. Besides this, the equipment should be consolidated to reduce its footprint and ensure simplified one-source management.

"At the rack level, efficiency can be achieved with by enhanced levels of density of the racks and intelligent control of power consumption," said Srivastava while talking at Data Center 2008, an industry event held in Bangalore and Mumbai recently.

He added that efficiency across data centers can be achieved by having a policy-based workload rebalancing, ultra efficient facilities and detailed power metering.  

Building a green data center

 Now that it is evident how important it is to have a green data center what are some of the points that solution providers should bear in mind while building it? For starters it is imperative they adopt the best practices in data center energy efficiency as mentioned above.

This will ensure a reduction in operational costs from energy use in the physical infrastructure and keep the door open for year-to-year improvement in the center.

Often 40 percent to 50 percent of the inefficiency inside data center is linked to lack of best practices deployment.

Therefore, there is no doubt that the savings accrued from adopting best practices can be furthered fed into the business, either for expanding the physical infrastructure or offering more services.

The second and most important thing to do is adopt an innovative approach. For instance with power draw options coming down, there are companies like Netmagic Solutions which are seeking alternatives for generating more power including investment in biomass. Said Sharad Sanghi, CEO, Netmagic Solutions, "Right now my power cost per unit is Rs 9, which is bound to go up. It might not be possible for me to have a captive power plant in my data center because that calls for very heavy investment, besides a lot of red tapism. So we are considering other options for the new data centers that we are setting up." 

Quick tips

Virtualization can be a savior when it comes bringing in better computing performance at lower power consumption. Srivastava also advises that solution providers should factor energy management in their service level agreements with customers.

Some other tips that he offers included the usage of raised floor cooling which gives more space for the cold air to navigate and ensures better cooling. The next is the creation of hot side – cold side aisle so that the temperatures can be controlled in one particular corner of the room rather than just refrigerating the complete facility.

"Load balance the cooling units and run them to their highest efficiency. Additionally, match the cooling technologies to the server types deployed in the center," he added. Besides this, solution providers should provision for longer rows of racks and seal cable cutouts. Since water is a ready resource it is a good idea to install water-cooled equipment and racks because for an equal volume water can remove 3,600 times more heat than air.

Cabling can also play an important role when it comes to making a data center more cost effective. "Cabling that utilizes new connector technologies that will be compatible with the next generation interconnects," said Mohamed Shahid Khan, AM—System Engineering Application, Tyco Electronics. It is therefore important for solution providers to invest in next generation Ethernet Networks.

"10GbE has penetrated into the access layer much faster than in the traditional network environment and its adoption on the server infrastructure will drive the need for 100GbE uplinks from the access to the core of the data centers," Khan added. "This is why we insist that our customers use Secure Cabling Systems because it has common access points that reduce the risk of inadvertent access as well as reduce chances of unauthorized connections to the wrong network."

There are these and other ways and means as well that can help make a data center green. It is just a matter of asking for it from the right sources.

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