Thursday, January 12, 2012

Many Paths to the Green Data Center

The economics of data center power and cooling are hard to ignore.

According to's Jeff Rangel, data center power consumption stands at 1.3 percent of worldwide use, nearly three times what it was in 2000. That represents nearly 80 metric megatons of carbon emissions per year and is on pace to more than quadruple by 2020. In dollar terms, Gartner reports that the cost to cool a 25,000-square-foot data center now tops out at $4.1 million per year.

Clearly, something has to give to both the economic and political pressures that high-energy consumption entails. That's probably why we're seeing such a wide range of ever-more exotic solutions to the data center's green problem.

Facebook, for example, wanted to go big with its latest European facility, a set of three 300,000-square-foot behemoths that would have been a nightmare to cool in the warm, humid south. Instead, the company chose Lulea, Sweden, less than 100 km from the Arctic Circle. The site features ample supplies of hydropower and a climate that rarely exceeds 80 degrees F even at the height of summer. When opened in 2014, the center will consume about 120 MW in order to handle the traffic needs of users across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The Facebook facility is only one of a number of new constructs that were built with energy efficiency in mind. Apple claims that its new site in Cupertino will house its own power-generation system, relying on the grid for backup only, and that the abundance of trees on the property will actually make it carbon negative. At the same time, Google is investing heavily in wind energy production, a move that it hopes will eventually cut energy costs below today's largely coal-based infrastructure.

Energy conservation isn't just about new construction. Some organizations are learning how to use unwanted heat in productive ways. KPMG, for example, shuttles exhaust from a natural gas power plant in its New Jersey facility to a pair of giant absorption chillers that in turn feed cold air to equipment racks. This kind of co-generation system — both power and cooling from essentially the same source — is estimated to require 22 percent less fuel than a traditional electrical system and cuts carbon emissions by 2,200 tons per year.

Data centers, even green ones, will no doubt continue to consume significant amounts of energy for some time to come — that's just the nature of the technology. But as long as the industry can show continued improvement in energy conservation, both the economic and public relations dividends should be substantial.

Adopted from