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Green Data: Is It Catching On and How Does One Comply With “Green”?

When you think of the term “going green”, you most likely have visions of futuristic zero-emission cars or homes powered entirely by solar or geothermal energy. However, you must not forget that many data storage centers also have a long way to go before they can be considered “green”.  According to The New York Times, most existing data centers are incredibly wasteful and consume copious amounts of energy. Recent reports indicate that some data centers may regularly waste a whopping 90% of the electricity that they receive from the grid. This incredible amount of wastefulness does not benefit the data centers or the environment.

Waste and Inefficiency

The New York Times recently tasked a consulting firm with analyzing the energy usage of various data centers. Their findings revealed that, on average, only 6% – 12% of the electricity flowing into the servers was actually utilized to create computations. The rest of the energy was used to simply keep the servers on standby. This is clearly not the ideal situation if you care about energy efficiency or saving money on energy costs.

From 1998 to 2010, the number of federal data centers multiplied from 432 to 2,094 – an increase of 1,662 data centers in just 12 years. That number doesn’t even take into account the thousands of data centers that belong to data storage companies and web hosts. With the massive amounts of energy consumed and potentially wasted by each data center, experts agree that this type of reckless energy consumption is simply not sustainable.  Many businesses are opting to make their data centers more “green” in an effort to do their part to cut back on wasteful energy consumption and save money in the process.

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What Makes a Data Center “Green”? 

According to recent reports, the Green Data Center Market is expected to surpass $45 billion by the year 2016. This highly valuable industry is certain to attract more federal and corporate attention. However, transforming a wasteful data center to a green one can be a monumental task. What is it that makes a data center green versus wasteful? Here are a few common traits of green data centers:

  • Small-footprint buildings that are constructed with low-emission materials
  • Waste recycling systems
  • Utilization of alternative energy, including evaporative cooling, photovoltaic technology, and heat pumps
  • Company vehicles that are hybrids or are designed to run on electricity
  • Backup generators with catalytic converters
  • The use of meters to limit energy usage to the level necessary for the components (such as a switch, a UPS, a 2U server, a SAN, and a 4U server)
  • Server-enabled CPU throttling
  • Monitoring of energy usage during low energy and peak energy times
  • Implementation and regular review of an energy savings plan
  • Monitoring energy capacities down to the individual circuits

Various green data centers may have additional requirements that they self-impose on their facilities in order to improve their energy savings and to achieve more responsible energy consumption practices.

What Are the Challenges for Green Data? 

Transforming a typical data center into a green one presents a bit of a challenge and an expense. However, the rewards of such a conversion often outweigh the work that it takes to get there. Some of the challenges of building or converting to a green data center include:

  • Achieving the ideal amount of energy consumption without jeopardizing performance
  • The expense and challenge of converting equipment, systems, and processes to more energy-efficient alternatives
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Some businesses have recently experienced a loss of sales due to delays that could be attributed to energy-saving experiments. It is important for data centers to ensure that they do not cut back so much on energy consumption that the performance of their equipment is jeopardized. It is also important to note that there is typically a large up-front cost required in order to convert to green, so data centers should plan for this initial investment before jumping into it. Any wasteful data center can convert to a green data center with some careful planning and financial preparation.

What Are the Benefits for Green Data?

The benefits of becoming a green data center are very generous, and include:

  • Reduced operational expenditures and electricity costs
  • Extended hardware lifespan
  • Improved corporate image
  • Reduction of maintenance needs
  • Greater sustainability
  • Reduction of carbon emissions

Although it costs a lot to convert a data center to a green data center, the long-term benefits and the immediate improvement of corporate image are usually well worth the initial cost and time involved.

Can a Data Center Easily Become Green?

Converting to a green data center can be a very complicated process, depending on how inefficient your data center currently is. There are different levels and ideals of energy efficiency that various data centers may choose to adhere to. With the help of experienced data center planning and building experts, you may be able to make the transition quicker than you think. Experts suggest that data centers first conduct an energy audit to help them determine what steps need to be taken in order to become green. The data collected during the audit will be evaluated and utilized to compare the data center’s energy efficiency with an industry metric. The information gleaned from this exercise will reveal areas of energy inefficiency.

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In order to begin the process of going green, it is recommended that you take the time to analyze and collect the following data:

  • Your company’s forecasted growth plans
  • A detailed inventory of your existing systems, as well as their locations and power usage
  • Energy efficiency regulations that you must adhere to
  • Ideas to improve rack cooling efficiency and prevent cold air from escaping
  • Benefits versus drawbacks of adding ducted returns

Going green can be simple or very involved, depending on how much improvement your particular data center needs. To find out what it will take to make your data center green, consider having an energy audit done so that you can pinpoint your inefficiencies and learn what it will take to improve them. The long-term benefits of going green and protecting the environment will be worth the up-front cost and effort required.

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