Green IT: How to Maintain Data Center Efficiency

August 27, 2011

In our last post, we interviewed green technology expert Matt Stansberry. He gave us so much great advice on getting your company to go green, we decided to interview him again about data center efficiency. In his 2009 ebook, “The Green Data Center,” Matt outlines energy-efficient computing and green IT best practices. You can read Matt’s ebook here.

We wanted to know what had changed since 2009, so we asked writer Heather Barnett to find out from the man himself.

Heather: Thanks for sitting down with me again. I’m sure you’re a busy man, so let’s get started. In your 2009 ebook, you said liquid coolants had some issues and weren’t popularly used in the U.S., yet. Is that still true?

Matt: Liquid cooling for data center equipment still isn’t very popular. According to our 2011 survey, less than 20% of respondents are using liquid cooling in their data centers. Liquid is much more efficient at removing heat from a server than air – but the systems aren’t very practical for every data center.

Large facilities with a mix of different kinds of equipment (the majority of enterprise data centers) typically aren’t a great fit for liquid cooling systems. On the other hand, if your company is running high density, very modular, homogenous workloads – like a supercomputing lab – then liquid cooling makes a lot of sense. When vendors started introducing liquid/water back into the data center a few years ago, the data center industry faced a crisis – the mechanical infrastructure couldn’t handle the widespread and rapid shift to high-density hardware. But today, the majority of companies have adopted the latest data center cooling best practices and have extended the viability of air-cooled, high density server deployments.

Heather: Interesting. You also talked about the debate over DC versus AC power. Has anyone “won”?

Matt: Largely, the AC side has won the power debate in the data center. According to our 2011 survey, only 7% of respondents have deployed DC power in their facilities. This is largely due to the fact that the UPS vendors have made improvements to AC-based equipment, driving up efficiency. Also, there was little interest in developing DC-direct IT hardware from the server/storage vendors. So companies were facing increased up-front equipment costs, increased engineering costs, and a lack of choices when it came to equipment. While Lawrence Berkley National Labs and some customers have demonstrated savings with DC power, the market has opted not to pursue it.

Heather: What about other efficiency methods? Are there any new advances in hot/cool-aisle containment, forced-air and liquid cooling, economizers or anything else you think might be relevant to efficiency moving forward?

Matt: The biggest opportunity for a lot of companies going forward will be increased data-center cooling efficiency. Raising server inlet air temperatures to current ASHRAE guidelines, deploying hot-cold aisle containment and variable frequency drive fans, and using outside air temperatures for free cooling. But all of this will take serious planning, training and discipline from a data center facilities team.

IT operations staff can drive exponential improvements in data center efficiency and effectiveness, as well . IT organizations that are willing to take a systematic approach, starting at the application and data layers –consolidating applications and servers, de-duplicating data, removing comatose but power-draining servers, building redundancy into the applications and IT architecture rather than physical systems – will drive the next wave of efficiency gains. But these improvements will not happen if IT doesn’t realize the financial benefits from these changes. So IT departments need to start paying the power bill instead of corporate real-estate or facilities.

Heather: Thanks, again, for even more great information. I’m sure our readers will appreciate what they learn from your experience. Readers, Matt’s provided an informative graphic that shows what your peers will be doing in 2011. Check it out by clicking here.

Matt Stansberry is Director of Content and Publications for Uptime Institute, the Global Data Center Authority, developing unbiased, actionable resources for data center owners and operators to improve data center management, to address changing regulations, and to advise on new equipment and standards.

He joined Tech Target in 2005 to launch, and has managed that site and multiple other Tech Target properties. He won an award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for his eBook, The Green Data Center. Prior to joining Tech Target, he was the managing editor of Today’s Facility Manager magazine and a staff writer for the U.S. Green Building Council.

Stansberry has reported on the convergence of technology, facility management and energy issues in the data center since 2003.