As the consumer market for electronic products continues to grow, businesses continue to expand their storage and data retention requirements. Common devices have made high-definition video and photography made available to almost anyone, resulting in an endless growth in new data that must be stored and recorded for future access. This has significant implications both for the costs of operating a data center and the environment.
The Importance of Green Technology in Data Centers
New data storage requirements do not necessarily denote a linear relationship in hardware requirements. The effects of new storage requirements multiply down the line, as modern retention policies usually demand reliable backups that are easy to access. All of this new data must be secured, cooled, and transmitted effectively. Upgrading data centers can also mean expanding physical space for new racks and other equipment—all of which must be lit, cooled, and secured as well.
At present, even small data centers consume large amounts of energy. Operating a server farm, fans, consoles, monitors, lights, and cooling systems all day, every day, requires large quantities of energy. Since data centers require high uptime, many systems run continuously regardless of usage. Redundant systems designed for improved reliability and security also consume large amounts of electricity in their own right.
Reducing the Environmental Impact of Data Centers
Reducing energy consumption benefits the environment and provides economic benefits to the data center operator. With the continuously rising cost of energy, energy-intensive industries are continuously looking for new ways to reduce their overhead. Data center owners are no different. Annual energy costs alone for servers are $27 billion at present. Modern data centers lower their costs in various ways.
Ever increasing technological development mandates modern data centers to use new equipment. A Detroit data center using state-of-the-art equipment several years ago, for example, may now be obsolete compared to new Atlanta data centers. Newer equipment is not only more capable, but also more energy efficient. Older equipment that may not have been energy efficient to begin with will degrade over time, thus increasing its energy consumption. In a data center that may be using 10 or 15 MW with new equipment, even minor equipment degradation can result in a tremendous upswing in power consumption.
Using Less Energy with Virtualization
Virtualization is the latest trend in the push for data center efficiency for numerous reasons, one of which is energy consumption. With virtualization, information technology staff can control the equipment in a virtual machine operated at another location. This results in a reduction in need for basic creature comforts common to data centers, such as a suitable ambient temperature and adequate lighting. Without these concerns, virtual data centers can operate at higher temperatures with a reduced energy footprint.
Ambient temperature may not sound like a substantial factor in the energy costs of operating a data center. However, energy costs drop significantly with relatively minor increases in operating temperature. Operators of large data centers that have seen substantial reductions in energy consumption from operating a higher-temperature data center include Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Intel, and Sun. In particular, Sun saw a four percent reduction in energy costs by increasing the temperature of its data center by a single degree.
To provide much of the energy necessary to operate these data centers, many large data centers use banks of diesel generators. Venting the exhaust outside reduces the air quality in the surrounding area. Virtual data centers and dark data centers draw less power from the surrounding community and waste much less energy in normal operation than conventional data centers.