The New IT Competitive Edge: Sustainability

Demand Side

Even if a data center decides to source 100 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources, blind consumption of energy is no longer acceptable — not for the environment, society or for a business’ bottom line. This makes energy efficiency critical, no matter which way you look at it. Just by installing simple, energy-efficient technologies, data centers can reduce their consumption by 30 percent.

It’s well known that cooling is the singular largest consumer of energy in a data center. Servers need to be maintained at low temperatures at all times in order to prevent melt-downs, crashes and emergency shut-downs. While traditionally performed by energy-intensive HVAC systems, new options are available to cool racks using outside air – a resource that is free, simple and uses almost no energy. When built in regions with naturally occurring chilly air (such as Google’s recently launched 11-acre data center in Dublin, Ireland), free cooling is one of the most effective demand-side strategies to slash consumption.

And regardless of how data centers choose to cool their servers, many data centers still routinely mix hot and cold air – limiting the capacity and effectiveness of the system. This is easily remedied — and returns up to 25 percent in energy savings — just by placing air tiles in the cold aisle; locating supply vents in the cold aisle and return vents in the hot aisle; and other simple, low-cost methods to separate hot and cold air.

Demand Response

Approaching both aspects of energy supply and demand is vital to true sustainability, but the connecting elements to unlock the potential behind this strategy lie in smart management and communication. Demand response, the “killer app” of the smart grid, is the ability of energy companies and businesses to communicate and determine when to best produce and consume electricity.

The business benefits of capitalizing on this communication as enabled by smart supply and demand are enormous. Not only does demand response have the potential to reduce our carbon emissions by 50 percent over the next twenty years, but it also allows enterprises to actually participate in the power financial market – selling back unused energy to utilities at peak times and opening up an entirely new streams of revenue.

There are numerous ways that data centers can easily take advantage of demand response. For instance, advancements in weather prediction have made highly precise environmental data available to IT managers at a low cost, allowing them to work with their utilities to pre-heat and pre-cool their data centers to avoid energy-intense times and costs.

It’s already clear today that sustainability in the data center is not an “if” for businesses, but a “when” and “how.” Considering all sides of the energy equation will prove critical to supporting our sustainability, energy security and growing technology demands. And while sustainability provides businesses a tremendous financial benefit, it will also bring positive public sentiment to businesses that are responsibly sourcing and using energy– whether you’re a small start-up or the provider of the world’s largest search engine.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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One Comment

  1. Scott

    Can we define "sustainability" before using the word 17 times in the article? It seems that reducing costs and using energy efficiently is the sole criteria for "sustainability" in Schneider's eyes -- neither are bad strategies, but they're hardly sufficient to claim the mantle of "sustainability." Reminiscent of Monsanto using the word to defend industrial agriculture by pointing to marginal improvements in yield. It would be great to know how demand response, which is great for load shedding and load shifting, can ever reduce carbon emissions by 50% in the next two decades when electricity contributes just 25% to the mix of human-made greenhouse gases. Even if just talking about the electricity sector, this is an outsized claim presented with no context -- what's the analysis behind this claim?