The link between the green data center and energy consumption

Paul Mah talks to Etienne Guerou about the relationship between energy consumption and the green data center. Guerou is the VP of a power company and has 20 years of experience in designing and building data centers.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Etienne Guerou, Vice President of Chloride South East Asia, to discuss the increasing importance and relevance of the green data center. He has 20 years of experience in designing and building data centers.

When I spoke with Guerou in September 2008, he briefed me about the top four mistakes organizations make when building data centers. In our latest conversation, the theme that kept emerging was how cooling and electrical costs represent a major portion of a data center's operating cost.

Green IT isn't just a product

According to Guerou, a common mistake that IT professionals make is to visualize a data center in terms of the infrastructure and the requisite hardware components and then stop there. Far fewer IT professionals make the connection between the larger amount of resources that a more stringent level of availability and redundancy will require.

For example, the design and requisite equipment to lay even a basic power feed is intricately tied to the desired level of redundancy. These requirements could mandate the need for a double feeder topology, which means that each feed should originate from separate power plants. This gives rise to the need for substations, separate sets of generators, and UPSs -- all of which will contribute to an entirely different set of power efficiency numbers.

Rather than specifying an arbitrary number of nines for uptime, IT pros who work for an environmentally responsible organization should think about the kind of uptime they truly need. Where Web applications are concerned, organizations can boast reliability beyond even the magic 99.999% merely by architecting its software to safely failover between different data centers.

The obsession over temperature

Remember the first time you visited the data center? I bet you brought a sweater on your subsequent trips.

You may have thought that a typical data center is inhumanely cold since most data centers run at a temperature of 20 degrees or below. When highlighting this fact, Guerou paused and then posed the question, "But why?"

IT professionals are often obsessed with keeping data centers at lower temperatures.  Even if the temperature is only a couple of degrees higher, it could have profound implications on the amount of energy that is required to do the cooling. This corresponds directly with cost savings.

Guerou mentioned an IBM study that concluded that 25 degrees is the optimal temperature in the data center. Intel recently conducted an experiment in which it cooled a data center with 900 servers -- high-performance blade servers to boot -- with nothing more than temperate desert air of up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Extrapolating from the experiment, Intel estimated annual savings to the tune of approximately $2.87 million in a 10-MW data center.

So rather than maintaining ever-lower temperatures, IT professionals should focus more attention on achieving better air flow to eliminate hot spots.

The future of green data centers

The greater awareness of green IT has led to improved efficiencies where individual hardware is concerned. Also, data centers increasingly have to validate their green status, as consumer become more conscious of the environment. Guerou thinks that government legislation will eventually steer data centers towards greater environmental friendliness.

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