Colt Cuts Data Centre Energy By A Fifth, Says You Can Too

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Simple airflow management and chiller upgrades can slash your energy needs

Service provider Colt has cut the energy used in its European data centres by nearly a fifth – and says the rest of the industry can do the same.

The company took three years to reduce its data centres’ energy usage by 18 percent – cutting 43 GigaWatt hours (GWh), and €4 million from its annual electricity bill, as well as reducing its carbon footprint by 15,000 tonnes. Colt started with cheap and easy upgrades to its systems, and progressed to more expensive ones, during the course of the project.

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Colt comfort farm?

“From environmental and cost perspectives, Colt has demonstrated that substantial energy savings can be achieved by targeting efficiencies within individual data halls and across the entire data centre infrastructure, both inside and out,” said Ian Dixon, VP of operations at Colt.

“Our experience shows that many of these savings can readily be obtained through a series of simple steps that provide sizeable returns within a twelve to eighteen month timeframe. Given the age profile and makeup of Europe’s data centre estate, there is no reason why these reductions cannot be replicated across the industry as a whole.”

Europe’s data centres are expected to reach 104,000 GWh (104 TWh) by 2020, up from 60 TWh at present, according to European Commission research. That electricity now amounts to up to half the costs of running the data centres.

Colt, which has around 30,000 square metres of data centre space in Europe, thinks that everyone can cut five percent off the power budget without thinking too hard about it, using guidelines such as the EU Code Of Conduct for Data Centres. This would save Europe the energy equivalent of 740,000 households, Colt says.

In the first year of its programme, Colt cut energy use by ten percent, by carrying out projects across its whole estate, which had large up-front efficiency gains. These included “airflow management” – the science of containing chilled air so it can be used to cool the servers, and not the surrounding room.

Beyond that, it had to search harder for improvements it could make cost-effectively – a phenomenon often known as “Green Fatigue”. In years two and three, Colt carried out smaller projects on a case-by-case basis, including upgrades to wasteful components such as cooling equipment, chillers and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units.

Despite often-expressed fears, Dixon reckons that cutting energy doesn’t have to cost the earth: “There is a belief among many participants in the data centre industry that energy efficiencies go hand-in-hand with heavy investment; that’s simply not the case,” he said. “Most of the savings achieved by Colt since 2010 have resulted from initiatives within the data hall requiring minimal capital investment. These included initiatives for enhanced airflow management, more accurate measurement systems and tighter tolerance bands for cooling air temperature and humidity.”

There are cases where investment would be a waste, however. Older data centres are often the least efficient – with a PUE (power usage effectiveness) of more than two, with means that for every Watt used by the IT equipment another Watt is wasted. However, that doesn’t automatically mean they can be improved by investment.

Investing in older data centres often provides “diminishing returns”, said Dixon, who advises firms with older plants to to move to a new data centre and consolidate their IT equipment, if at all possible. Colt has a white paper on how to do this.

It is also, we assume, ready to provide a consolidated data centre for you… or was that supposed to be a subliminal marketing message?

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