CloudDatacentreGreen-ITInnovation

Practical Steps To Green The Data Centre

Wayne Rash is senior correspondent for eWEEK and a writer with 30 years of experience. His career includes IT work for the US Air Force.

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For IT managers with limited budgets there are a couple of low-impact moves that could yield high-impact cost savings in the data centre

IT managers with limited budgetary resources are well aware of green IT, but often cannot afford to make large scale data centres changes to take advantage of the technology.

That said, a practical and relatively easy cost saving that would help all IT budgets enormously is if companies could achieve a dramatic cut in energy costs for their data centres.

IT managers are well aware of new and interesting green IT solutions. They know there are now servers that are much more efficient than the machines they’ve had in their data centres for the last couple of years. They also know that they can spend money on licenses in order to virtualise their computing environment and make better use of their servers. But even though all that gear will pay dividends in energy savings down the road, often they simply don’t have the money to spend on it.

Fortunately, there is a lot IT managers can do to cut their energy consumption for maximum impact and with minimal attention and effort. Even better, some of the most effective areas of energy savings don’t involve expensive new servers and upgraded cooling.

“The No. 1 thing to look at is the cooling side,” said Kevin Brown, vice president of global data centre solutions for Schneider Electric. “Look at your airflow patterns and look at whether you’re getting efficient distribution of air. Look under the raised floor.”

Brown said that air flow blockages and inefficiencies are perhaps the biggest waste of energy in data centres. In data centres with raised floors, this can mean problems like missing tiles or wrongly placed air vents. But it can also mean that there’s junk under the floor that’s keeping the cooling system from working properly. To wit: “I found a Christmas tree under a data centre floor,” Brown said.

A major goal, added Brown, is to eliminate as much cooling as possible. “If they do a really good job cleaning up their airflow, they might be able to start turning off their CRACs [computer room air conditioners]. That’s the low-hanging fruit,” he said.

Making sure your AC is fully loaded is one way to save significant energy in the data centre, said Daniel Golding, vice president and research director of Tier 1 Research. “If you have two running at 50 percent, it’s better to have one at 100 percent,” he said.

Golding added that most data centres are overcooled. “Simply raise the temperature of your data centre,” he said. “The idea that you need 60-degree (15.5 Celsius) data centres is completely inaccurate. The idea that you need it below the level of human comfort is inaccurate, 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6 to 29.4 Celsius) is fine.”

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While the idea of a warm data center may be anathema to some IT managers, the fact is that modern equipment is designed to work in an environment with input air temperatures as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 Celsius).

Golding also suggested using outside air where possible so you don’t even have to run the AC. He pointed out that there’s no science to support the widely held belief that outside air, with its pollution and dirt, will damage computer equipment “unless maybe you’re in China or L.A.”

Lex Coors isn’t so sure he agrees with Golding about simply using outside air instead of air conditioning, but he agrees on a lot of other things. Coors, vice president of data centre technology for Amsterdam-based Interxion, runs co-located data centres for companies around the world. He said that some of the most effective steps are also some of the easiest: “closing the air leaks in tiles, walls, doors, putting blanking plates in cabinets.”

Coors also said that a dramatic improvement can be gained by the installation of hot aisle and cold aisle containment – the process of keeping hot and cold air from mixing and reducing efficiency.