7 Absolutely Essential Steps to an Energy-Efficient Data Center

5 minute read
7 Absolutely Essential Steps to an Energy-Efficient Data Center

Most data centers drain energy.

According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, data centers are one of the top consumers of energy in the United States. Between 2013 and 2020, data center energy consumption will rise from 91 billion to 140 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. 

The increase in power is driven by customer demands for electronic and mobile services, such as online shopping and business apps. These services are making IT systems more vast and complex.

And the energy that your IT systems use is costing you a fortune. The same study found that American businesses pay $13 billion annually in data center electricity bills.

Most people think that the mega-sized, cloud computing data centers —like Amazon and Google —use all this energy. However, corporate data centers and multi-tenant facilities also make a significant contribution to energy usage and can be less energy efficient, depending on their design and how they are managed.  

Corporations are slowly migrating to data centers that offer higher densities and energy-saving opportunities. However, they architect and implement their new IT environments in a legacy manner. This eliminates the energy savings, infrastructure spending decreases, and floor space reduction opportunities available in a higher density data center.

Energy Efficiency Isn’t Just About Cutting Costs

With energy consumption and costs on the rise, it’s no surprise that corporations want to run more efficient data centers. A study by the Data Center Users Group found that 42 percent of respondents have analyzed their data center’s efficiency.

Cutting costs are a key driver for analyzing your efficiency; however, the benefits of running an energy-efficient data center go far beyond saving money.

When you improve the energy efficiency in your data center, you can:

  • Extend the life of your IT equipment

  • Gain better reliability from your equipment

  • Regulate your temperatures

  • Decrease your impact on the environment

  • Have less unscheduled downtime

  • Regain capacity within your mechanical and electrical systems

  • Get fewer phone calls at 2:00 a.m. because something broke in your data center

7 Steps to an Energy-Efficient Data Center

You likely have opportunities to make your data center more energy efficient. Here are seven steps you can take to gain control of your energy costs, as well as improve your IT equipment’s reliability and performance: 

1. Turn off the lights.

Yep. Switching the lights off may seem super obvious, but lots of people forget to do this.

Just like your parents told you to turn off the lights when you leave a room, you should also turn off the lights when you leave your data center. Energy from your lights puts additional heat load on your cooling systems, which can drive up your costs and make your equipment work harder than it needs to.

2. Raise your supply air temperature slowly.

Take it slow when it comes to raising your temperature. Raise it one degree, let it sit for 30 to 60 days, and then determine how the higher temperature impacts your energy costs and efficiency.

If you see a positive impact, raise the temperature another degree and follow the same process. You’ll know when you’ve raised it too much, as you’ll stop seeing a return or you will see a negative return.

Most data centers start to see negative returns at 75°F. Around this temperature, fans in your equipment will start to run faster and negate your efficiency. You’ll use less cooling but pay more for it.

3. Add blanking panels.

Blanking panels are a quick fix to prevent the cold air in your data center from mixing with the hot air. Make sure that all of your cabinets have blanking panels that prevent air from recirculating and mixing. Also check that all of your holes have grommets or brushes to keep airflow from bypassing your IT infrastructure. 

4. Check the age of your cooling system.

The older your cooling system, the less efficient it is. Even a system that is five years old can waste energy and drive up your costs. Depending on the age and condition of your cooling system, a newer design can help you gain 80 to 90 percent efficiency.

For example, if you are running direct expansion (DX) cooling, you can look at a hybrid DX/pump refrigerant system such as Emerson’s Liebert DSE. It allows for “free” cooling at outdoor ambient temperatures that are below 55°F. It has a fan and pump operation but allows the compressors to be more efficient. You can also look into uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) that have power factors of 0.96 (or 96 percent efficiency) vs. legacy systems with power factors of 0.9 or 0.8.

5. Increase your voltage.

Moving from 120 volts to 208 volts for your IT equipment power can give you a six to eight percent efficiency gain, as equipment runs more efficiently at a higher voltage.

When you increase your voltage, you can also reduce your wire sizes. This allows you to support the same amount of amperage with smaller wires.

6. Kill your energy zombies.

A report from Anthesis Group, Stanford University and TSO Logic found that almost 30 percent of physical servers in data centers sit idle. These idle servers are costing companies more than $30 billion each year.

You likely have energy zombies in your data center — dead equipment that’s consuming power and providing no usefulness. Assess your equipment to determine what you have and why you’re using it. If you find energy zombies, pull the plug.

7. Optimize your flooring.

Raised flooring allows hot and cold air to flow into different parts of your data center. If your data center has raised flooring, you can minimize bypass air by using brushes or getting rid of unnecessary cutouts.  

Also make sure that you have the proper quantity of floor tiles and that they are in the correct arrangement so that you optimize your airflow. Fans on your cooling units pressurize the area under the raised floor. The fewer openings on your floor, the less your fans will need to run.

Get Started Today

You likely have low-hanging fruit in your data center when it comes to improving your efficiency. For example, being more energy efficient can be as simple as turning off a light. 

Try some of these suggestions and monitor your results. You can test and tweak things as you go to lower your costs throughout every area of your data center.

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