The green effect
26-03-2012 - John Hatcher
One of today’s hottest debates is how far sustainability can bring business advantage. Sustainable business practices need sustainable business systems, and the data centre represents one area where going green can pay dividends.
Increasing power costs and the threat of the carbon tax are the two main concerns that are driving many organisations to review their data centre’s green credentials.
At the beginning of this year, the Carbon Trust reported the UK environmental and low carbon market to be worth over £112bn a year and forecast to grow by 25% over the next four years.
On the rise
In the data centre, running costs are almost exclusively related to power; there are the actual operating costs of the servers themselves, but also the electricity costs for heating, cooling and lighting.
Despite improvements in technology, the rising cost of fossil fuels – and the subsequent effect on electricity costs – means that before long the cost of power could be as high as two-thirds of the cost of running a data centre,.
The major factors affecting the efficient use of electricity within the data centre environment are equipment, data centre design and virtualisation – all of which are designed to reduce the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE).
In terms of equipment there are a number of changes that can be made to improve power efficiency including upgrading to more efficient servers and installing energy-efficient UPS systems.
You can also change your computing practices, converting from physical servers to a virtual environment. This will decrease the footprint created by your physical servers and storage & networking devices, and improve server utilisation – all reducing power consumption.
However, larger efficiency gains come from how a data centre is designed. This is all down to the need to cool the data centre environment; every server generates heat and the largest area of waste is in the disposal of this heat which is done by cooling the air.
The more efficiently you can cool the data centre, the less power it consumes. The most important things to do are to eliminate the mixing of hot and cold air flows and to cool the racking equipment rather than the whole data centre. This is best achieved by using cold aisle containment which cools equipment without creating traditional alternating hot and cold aisles.
So, is it sensible to tackle this yourself or outsource your data storage and management and benefit from the financial rewards?
A shared infrastructure is automatically greener simply because of its size, improved efficiency and better equipment utilisation. The individual consumption of carbon is less because the ratio of equipment to usage becomes smaller.
There is a compelling argument to outsource energy-guzzling IT equipment either by colocating your servers in a third-party data centre or using a managed service provider’s virtual hosting services.
In addition, if you’re running your own data centre, you have to consider the initial capital cost and the ongoing operational expenditure which includes maintenance and periodic replacement of major items of equipment.
There are many advantages to colocating your servers in a specialist data centre, not least of which is the high level of security that they offer.
Beyond issues of security, however, third-party data centres will have been specifically planned so that they won’t have the problem that many organisations face of housing their racks in an environment in which very little thought has been given to rack layout. In-house data centres have often been placed in a building or room not specifically designed for the task.
Also, specialist data centres will be constantly upgrading and maintaining the equipment and environment, taking their own steps to be greener and more energy-efficient in order to lower their PUE.
Data centre costs are intrinsically linked to emissions and trying to be greener can save you money. The careful management of the data centre environment can have a profoundly beneficial effect on your bottom line and there are many green approaches that can cut costs, from equipment choice and data centre layout to virtualisation.
Some of this can be done in-house and it will have a big impact on your green credentials. However, using third-party data centres and experienced managed service providers, you can gain the advantages of up-to-date sustainable investment while simultaneously saving on capital and operational costs.