Building Energy-Efficient Data Centers

Advanced cooling systems alone could dramatically improve conditions and reduce costs

13 November 2014

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The last few years have seen a notable increase in the number of new data centers constructed worldwide. This trend, which is expected to continue in the foreseeable future, has been driven by a dramatic surge in data-management requirements brought on by, among other factors, the ongoing growth of Web-based services, social networking sites, and emerging technologies such as cloud computing.

A new report from the U.S. Natural Resources Defence Council states that in 2013, U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and further suggested that data center power requirement in the country would increase about 140 billion kilowatt-hours annually by 2020. With increased capacity requirements and energy prices projected to rise, in the short-term at least, one of the main challenges now facing all businesses is how best to maximize the energy efficiency of their data centers and, thereby, significantly drive down costs.

The key to building energy-efficient data centers is to design, select, and install the appropriate systems and equipment into the building’s blueprints from the onset of the project. Data centers generally comprise of many different interdependent systems, so changing even one of these at a later stage has major cost and schedule implications.

Two areas to look into are servers and cooling systems, since they require an enormous amount of energy. Industry studies indicate that up to 76 percent of existing facilities are actually overcooled and are, therefore, energy inefficient. The scope is significant for innovative uses of air and water cooling systems at the correct temperatures and good system design and equipment selection to drive what’s known as power utilization effectiveness, boost sustainability, and reduce costs. It is important that owners of these facilities correct overcooling and that owners and designers do not repeat this same mistake in new construction.

Key considerations in value engineering—or methods to improve the value of goods, products, or services—and selecting the best method based on the needs of the client are reliant on the availability and cost of utilities such as electricity, gas, and water.

All of the relevant factors must be part of the value engineering assessment if the best solutions are to be found and the project is to be successful. With data center capacity requirements increasing all the time, the need to maximize energy efficiency to reduce costs is already a high priority for many companies. As these facilities generally run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even a small increase in efficiency can result in major savings in operating costs.

Vishal Khanchandani is an IEEE student member and the public relations officer of the LDRP Institute of Technology and Research Student Branch, in Gandhinagar, India, in the IEEE Gujarat Section.

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