Managing the Energy-Efficient Data Center: A Special Report for CIOs

Energy-Saving Measures
A recent survey of 374 data center managers conducted by SearchDataCenter.com found that lack of space was the most significant limiting factor for a company's data center growth, followed by power capacity, network bandwidth and cooling capacity. On the energy-saving front, the results were as follows:

50%+ said they have saved energy through server virtualization.

32% had made efforts to improve under-floor air conditioning efficiency.

17.5% had implemented power-down features on servers not in use.

11% had tried direct current power in the data center.

7.7% had tried liquid cooling for increased data center cooling efficiency.

27% hadn't taken any measures to minimize their data center power usage.

Water Cooling Redux

Credit Suisse takes a unique approach to water cooling: freezing ice at night during lower utility rates to use for cooling during the day. The project was discussed during a panel on green projects at the Next Generation Data Center event this summer -- and the audience scoffed that energy savings is not energy efficiency. "All kinds of people are saying all kinds of things, but they have to face facts," says Kfir Godrich, CTO of EYP Mission Critical Facilities, which worked on the Credit Suisse project. "Believe me, all these financial [institutions] are leaders in what they are doing. If they are doing these kinds of things, it's something the market should look at and learn from in a positive way."

Either way, most CIOs wouldn't go back to water cooling for servers, given the risk of flooding. In a survey by SearchDataCenter.com, 65% of respondents said they would never use liquid cooling in their data centers (see right).

Fred Stack, vice president of marketing at Liebert Precision Cooling, a part of Emerson Network Power, says most CIOs wrongly equate water cooling with liquid cooling. For instance, liquid cooling can be Freon, which has 380 times the heat capacity of air, 40 times that of water. And if Freon leaks, it turns into a gas. "When it comes to liquid cooling, there must be a mind change," Stack says.

Another innovative approach to data center efficiency: a data center in a trailer. Sun Microsystems' Blackbox and Rackable Systems' Concentro have already hit the market. While a trailer can be hauled to remote areas offering cheap energy prices, the primary energy efficiency comes from an optimized density and cooling design. Known in the industry as a "closed loop," the data center's airflow is circulated rather than released outside. Rackable claims that its self-contained cooling technology saves 80% in cooling costs over traditional methods. (Vyas considered Concentro but felt the solution was too proprietary.)

Many forces are coming together to drive energy efficiencies in the data center, from cost savings to virtualization and blade technology to the green movement that's sweeping the nation. "Just as data center managers today manage their data center for application availability, security and end-to-end transaction performance, we think that moving forward they are going to have to manage energy optimization," IBM's Lechner says.

CIOs agree. Two out of five IT managers polled by IDC said that power and cooling was their top data center concern this year, while availability and redundancy came in second. The utility bill, once solely the province of the facilities manager, is now sometimes in the CIO's domain, or at the least, the CIO is accountable for its expense. "Our IT is considered a business unit. Energy cost is in the IT budget, not in facilities," says Vyas. For good or ill, CIOs are now in the energy management business.

Tom Kaneshige was a senior features editor at CIO Decisions. To comment on this story, email editor@ciodecisions.com.

This was first published in November 2007

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