Most data centers are running well below capacity and hiding inefficiencies with green heat transfer initiatives
Posted by Ben Rossi on 4 May 2016 – InformationAge
The technology boom of the last ten years has seen people’s reliance on data centers increase exponentially. All of the online platforms that have made lives more convenient and connected, from streaming sites to instant messaging platforms, rely upon information stored in data facilities.
In the advent of trends such as the Internet of Things, this demand for data storage is set to skyrocket even further. However, we are already facing a critical problem: the environmental impact of data centers.
According to research from the Global Sustainability Initiative, data centers are now responsible for 2% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. If the demand for data storage escalates at predicted rates, the volume of emissions that facilities produce will simply become unsustainable.
However, there is some good news – many of the problems with the current data center situation stem not from the sheer number of facilities in existence, but the ways in which they are operated.
Most data centers are currently running well below capacity. This inefficiency is often due to a fear of operational failure, and the belief that over-engineering is the only way to minimize this risk.
As a result, many data center operators are attempting to mask these inefficiencies through green heat transfer initiatives – using the excess heat to power public buildings such as swimming pools.
But this shortsighted strategy of ‘donating’ excess heat does nothing to address the underlying issues. Wouldn’t it be easier to solve the problem at the source?
Whilst the scale of new demand for data storage facilities is bound to require a certain amount of extra power, an ‘engineering gap’ currently exists, which prevents existing data centers from adapting to demands placed on them by businesses in the most efficient way.
As a result, the majority of data center energy expenditure via excess heat generation is avoidable. But there are techniques and tools that can be used on even the oldest data centers to reduce excess energy use and create truly ‘green’ facilities.
Green data centers
IT and facilities managers often over-provision and under-utilize the resources at their disposal, in order to avoid risk. In addition to being harmful to the environment, these inefficiencies also result in significant avoidable costs to the business.
Therefore, the challenge involved with making data centers greener lies in reducing operational inefficiencies without increasing the risk of downtime.
In part, this can be achieved through data center infrastructure management (DCIM) techniques. But if an operator is reliant on DCIM alone, the issue of the engineering gap remains.
The engineering gap in this instance refers to the disconnect between an IT manager’s prioritization of capacity, compared to a facility manager’s focus on efficiency.
The risk of making a change within the data center to improve efficiency is often, from an IT perspective, not worth the potential consequences should the system fail.
This means that the ability to predict the engineering impact of changes to the data center is potentially invaluable.
Predicting the impact of change on a data center requires a safe, offline environment to test proposals for change without the fear of disastrous consequences.
One of the best ways to do this is to use engineering simulation. Through the use of 3D modelling to represent the data center, power system simulation (PSS) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD), it is possible to identify whether a data center is operating with wasted capacity, and therefore excess heat production as a result.
Implementation of these methodologies means businesses can drive up utilization, thereby minimizing excess heat production.
An added bonus is that engineering simulation can be used to assist with installing high power density IT into a legacy facility, resulting in a technology boost for business processes, without the need for additional data center construction and unnecessary heat generation.
Rather than worrying about ways to recycle excess heat produced by facilities, businesses can instead conduct an evaluation of the ways in which they can be optimized.
Sourced from Jon Leppard, director, Future Facilities