The Raritan Blog

Five Simple Things You Can Do to Save Energy in Your Data Center

Michael Bord
October 7, 2014

October is National Energy Awareness Month here in the US.  Although it was first decreed in 1991 to encourage government and private sector awareness of the importance of managing energy resources wisely, this year the matter seems all the more poignant for the data center industry at large. Consider the results of Data Center Efficiency Assessment report published this past summer:

“In 2013, U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is the equivalent annual output of 34 large (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants, enough electricity to power all the households in New York City twice over. Data center electricity consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours annually by 2020, the equivalent annual output of 50 power plants, costing American businesses $13 billion per year in electricity bills and causing the emission of nearly 150 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually.”

The report goes on to state how data centers can cut electrical consumption by as much as 40 percent by making several changes outlined later on in the report.  Here, we take several of those recommendations, as well as recommendations from other industry-leading experts to reveal five simple things you can do to save energy in your data center. 

1. Create power utilization benchmarks.

It’s so cliché, yet so true: You can’t manage what you don’t measure.  By capturing power utilization data - preferably in an automated way - you’ll be able to see whether your servers are being used to full capacity, evaluate usage trends over time, and make informed decisions on how to conserve energy going forward.

Consider using a single metric like Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE).  Developed by the Green Grid, it is now the industry standard for measuring data center performance and is simply the ratio of the amount of energy a facility uses relative to the amount of IT equipment it has. Adopting a DCIM software solution can help you to calculate PUE automatically and make it easier to strive for greater efficiency. 

2.  Consolidate and decommission inefficient servers.

According to several studies, average server utilization between 2006 and 2012 was a paltry 12 to 18 percent on average. That means that for every five servers you have plugged into a rack power strip, you likely only need one.  You can consolidate servers by: combining applications onto a single server and a single operating system instance, clustering servers, downsizing your application portfolio, or virtualizing servers.

Additionally, many older servers are simply not as energy efficient as the newer models so you can save just by replacing them. How much can you actually save? According to the Uptime Institute, decommissioning a single 1U rack server can save $500 in energy, $500 in operating system licenses, and $1,500 in hardware maintenance costs annually. Rack power distribution units with outlet level metering can help you to determine which servers are currently underutilized or inefficient. 

3. Deploy environment sensors to your racks.

According to David J. Cappuccio, Gartner Managing Vice President and Chief of Research for the Infrastructure Teams, “Data center managers can save up to four percent in energy costs for every degree of upward change in the baseline temperature, known as a set point. The higher set point means less frequent use of air conditioning, which saves the energy used to run cooling systems.”

For many data centers, that can equal some serious yearly savings on energy used toward the cooling system. So how does one deploy data center environment sensors? The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers or simply ASHRAE recommends deploying temperature and humidity sensors at the top, middle, and bottom of racks on the inlet side for accurate, real-time views of data center temperatures compared to CRAC reading alone. 

4. Implement remote power control.

You wouldn’t leave the lights on at home all day while you went to work, so why leave your servers on during nights and weekends if no one is going to be using them?  Test and other non-production servers can often be powered off to conserve power during non-peak hours. To begin a remote power cycling program within your organization, start by metering your current servers to determine the most common times during which they are not in use. 

An intelligent PDU with the right capabilities will: A) Only perform graceful shutdown of equipment to eliminate the risk of data loss or corruption, and; B) Allow you to power cycle equipment with one or more power feeds on or off in a set order so as to minimize the risk of setting off a breaker due to an excessive inrush current. 

5. Head (at least partially) to the cloud.

Contrary to what the public believes, it’s not the massive highly publicized data centers that consume the most electrical resources, but small server rooms and closets that are responsible for about half of all server electricity consumption in the US.  By moving at least some applications offsite, organizations can often benefit from the provider’s more energy efficient infrastructure and presumably more optimized environment.

Many organizations fear the loss of access to their systems, but the reality is that a growing number of colocation providers are providing access to data center power monitoring software so that clients can be sure they’re being billed for actual power usage, and allowing clients to build out their racks and include serial console server access for remote administration that’s just like being at the rack. 

So consider celebrating National Energy Awareness Month by adopting one or more of these simple energy saving initiatives in your data center today.   


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