Currently, more and more IT leaders are considering the data center’s environmental impact, and they continue to work to reduce the carbon emissions it can generate.
Data centers face growing environmental pressures to reduce their carbon footprint and comply with increasing regulatory standards. They are under pressure to do more with less as they face rising operational costs, increasing power consumption, and cooling costs.
With the industry facing these challenges, what impacts data center design and operations? What steps can data center operators take to address these environmental challenges?
Reducing Data Center’s Environmental Impacts
Data centers are a big part of our global communication today, but their environmental impact might be more extensive. These facilities consume much energy and release a considerable amount of heat. They also require an enormous amount of physical space and infrastructure to host. Luckily, many techniques and tools can help reduce the impact data centers have on the environment.
The fundamental thing in reducing the data center’s environmental impact is to reduce the level of carbon emissions produced, including strategies for choosing cleaner energy, to energy use efficiency. For this reason, several energy efficiency metrics for data centers have become benchmarks for sustainable data centers.
Monitoring the data center’s power usage helps you reduce energy costs by identifying equipment that needs upgrading or replacing. For example, if you notice that a server is using more power than it should, you can upgrade it with a more efficient model or replace it altogether.
Improving Data Center Sustainability
With rising energy costs, the data center industry should seek to become more energy efficient. Many facilities are turning to renewable energy sources to help reduce the electricity they use.
The first step in data center sustainability is identifying where organizations can save money using sustainable practices.
- Data center energy efficiency has been identified as a top priority by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because it is associated with significant financial savings.
- According to Gartner Inc., server virtualization can reduce energy consumption by up to 50 percent.
- With the proper design and utilization of green IT infrastructure, organizations can achieve up to a 60% reduction in IT energy costs.
When it comes to data center sustainability, the focus is often on energy consumption. But energy efficiency can be a misleading metric because it doesn’t consider what kind of energy the servers are using – the only thing that matters is how much power you’re pulling from the grid.
When we look at our data center as a whole, there’s an obvious opportunity to improve our power usage effectiveness (PUE), which is one of the ways we measure how efficient our data center is.
Data Center Virtualization to Improve Data Center Efficiency
One way data centers can become more energy efficient is by adopting virtualization technologies. Server virtualization can reduce the overall number of servers needed by allowing multiple physical servers to be run on a single host machine.
A study by Gartner suggests that server virtualization and consolidation can lead to an average reduction in data center electricity demand by 15% to 30%.
Implement software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). These allow you to create self-configuring networks immune to outages or interference from heavy traffic loads. They also help you cut down on wasted energy by directing traffic only where it needs to go at any given time.
You can use virtualization to consolidate your servers to save resources and space. Virtualization also allows you to monitor each virtual machine’s performance and resources, making it easier to identify and resolve issues before they become problems. Virtualized data centers are usually built using blade servers; these are special computers explicitly designed for use in large-scale server farms.
Virtualization’s benefits are significant – reduced cooling costs increased compute density, flexible capacity, and ease of use. However, the cost savings offered by virtualization must be balanced with the additional power required to support dynamic workloads and system redundancy. The resulting power load depends heavily upon the design of the virtualized environment.
Combining on-site and off-site renewable energy
Many organizations are looking at ways to use on-site renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines. However, several barriers prevent companies from taking full advantage of these solutions. One barrier is cost: installing solar panels or wind turbines can be very expensive and a significant investment for businesses. Another barrier is availability: depending on their location, it may not be possible for businesses to use on-site solutions because they need the necessary renewable resource.
Both on-site and off-site renewable energy options exist, and many companies are exploring them.
- On-site generation reduces or eliminates the need for energy to be transported over long distances, which can cause transmission losses. This is especially important in areas with a high concentration of data centers, as many electrical grids have problems integrating large amounts of solar power into the overall system.
- Off-site generation is also helpful because it helps companies reduce their carbon footprint by generating electricity from clean sources such as wind and solar. Renewable energy has its challenges, in any case. It tends to be more expensive than traditional forms of power generation, particularly when it comes from off-site sources.
Facilities that have invested in renewable energy options have reported higher operating costs for their facilities. However, these increases have been offset by reduced electricity costs in other areas of their budget.
Several solutions have been proposed to reduce the environmental impact of power usage at data centers. These include:
- adding renewable energy sources to the grid, such as solar and wind power;
- reducing the energy used by cooling systems;
- using electric vehicles for delivery;
- and repurposing materials from construction sites.
None of those options are viable solutions for every data center. It is essential to know how your data center compares to others in terms of sustainability. Equipping data centers with the tools necessary for monitoring their energy usage will allow them to make well-informed decisions about improving their green credentials.
Implementing policies and procedures will optimize the environment, reduce operating costs, and increase data center performance. To start, deploying free-cooling solutions such as evaporative cooling is key to improving data center sustainability.