Facility Managers and Power Consumption

August 07, 2013

By Frank Griffin - Contributing Writer

The National Science Foundation granted a team of engineers at Pennsylvania State University $1 million for research into reducing the amount of power data centers consume. Data centers around the world are getting bigger and bigger, and currently they are responsible for 2 percent of the world's electric consumption, leaving 1.5 percent of the global carbon footprint. Facility managers (FMs) have to ensure the center is up and running at all times, protect it from any unforeseen event, and increasingly they are asked to reduce power consumption wherever possible.

In the past, data centers were only preoccupied with keeping the centers cool so the servers didn't melt down, but today there are many different regulations data centers have to comply with if they want to avoid fines. These regulations, pressure from environmental organizations, and negative PR have pushed data center designers and operators to start adopting the most efficient servers, cooling systems, and backup generators. 

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Because data centers are designed for capacity, performance, and reliability, all this comes at the expense of efficiency, and the industry experiences a lot of waste. Implementing smart electrical distribution monitoring systems allows FMs to keep an eye on the entire system so changes can be made as events take place, which bringing awareness to the organizations energy use. Having the right amount of power or rightsizing the distribution equipment as well as the uninterruptible power supply lowers the instances of waste.

Estimates put half of the power in a data center is used for cooling the facility. In this regard there are options available so the centers can achieve the ideal environment for the servers. Old computer room air conditioning (CRAC) system can be updated, multiple center operators can use facilities in cold environments or at night, and centers can be designed to take advantage of air flow and ventilation.

Data centers face many challenges because IT equipment energy use is very hard to predict. It is based on how many people use the services the center provides, and not two days are alike. Implementing an energy management system requires a comprehensive approach that must begin with the design of the center and continue into the equipment and personnel.

Globally data centers consume 30 billion Watts, and if that number is divided with the 2.4 billion Internet users, it only comes to less than 15 W per each person. Considering how much energy is wasted every day around the world, data centers are not as bad as some people make them out to be. Granted better operational systems can be implemented across the entire industry, and stronger regulation can be put in place, but this is a job for legislators, and until that time comes the industry has been doing a relatively good job of policing itself.

Edited by Rich Steeves