What is Your Data Center Doing to Protect the Earth?

Organizations that prioritize a green data center strategy, from the start, will be the real winners long term – in business and sustainability.

Bev Crair is Vice President of Product Development and Quality at Lenovo Data Center Group.

As Earth Day approaches, rising energy costs and consumption demands for computing are top of mind for the data center industry. Based on current estimates, data centers in the U.S. alone are projected to consume approximately 73 billion kWh in 2020. All the while, artificial intelligence implementations are increasing and these technologies demand higher powered devices to support their massive workloads. Data center efficiency and sustainability is a universal challenge that transcends companies, geographies and workloads – and there’s no simple solution.

While data center performance demands continue to rise exponentially, data center operational cost budgets have remained flat or shrunk. This leads to a need for packing more performance into a fixed power budget. So what can we do to maximize budgets while minimizing the environmental impact?

Be Conscious Purchasers and Producers

The United Nations estimates that there will be a global e-waste output of 50 million metric tons in 2018. Imagine all the old server racks, wires and fans that become waste. Doing more for the environment requires planning. I believe organizations that prioritize a green data center strategy, from the start, will be the real winners long term – in business and sustainability. As an industry, we need to choose wisely when selecting the materials and developing the processes that go into making our systems. Everything from the production, ability to repair products rather than replace them, and packaging should minimize impact on the environment.

Development teams should use recycled plastics in production whenever possible – for example, when developing the air ducts we use on servers – and should have repair, reuse and recycling centers to minimize our industry’s impact on the environment. As we all know, building complicated systems often requires bringing together multiple vendors' technologies, so it’s equally important to have a supply chain with the same environmental goals as your own organization.

Customers can also play a key role by selecting more eco-friendly products for their data centers. We are seeing an increase in the environmental tools released specifically for data center infrastructure systems, so we strongly encourage teams to use them before making key business decisions. For example, EPEAT ratings, carbon footprint calculators and TCO calculators are all great resources. These will help our industry continue to push the limits on what is possible from a product environmental aspect and help customers make educated decisions.

Sustainable Operations Begin with Sustainable Design

Heat is a major challenge we face in the industry. Therefore, improved cooling efficiency is essential for ensuring the energy consumption of the data center removes system heat. High performance does not always mean more power. Cooling technology is one example that achieves higher performance with lower power. Water cooling, for instance, can reduce data center energy costs by 40 percent. Direct water cooling design removes up to 90 percent of system heat from the rack, keeping processors up to 20°C cooler. This enables processors in those systems to continually run in "turbo" mode, greatly increasing system performance. The workload demand of existing data centers keeps growing with a need for more density. This increases cooling costs; so we as an industry need to make denser products that take up less space.

With increased performance expectations on computing, there is a strong expectation of enhanced performance per watt for each rack within the data center. While processors have dramatically improved performance, the power consumption per socket has doubled over the span of a decade, along with server power consumption. Processor power values of ~150-200W are common today compared to the first Pentium processor power value of ~15W in the 1990s.

Systems providers have to ensure the system layout and configuration, thermal management of the systems, and airflow delivery to hot spots within the machine are optimized. Additionally, there must be a low power burden on system fans and moderate acoustics. Conventional computing environments are designed to support racks that need ~10-15kW of power. Those racks can generally be cooled with conventional air cooling techniques. What we’re seeing with data intensive machine learning computing, and dense high performance computing, are racks that require ~30kW (and higher). In many instances, this level of power requires some form of liquid assistance to cool.

Many data center infrastructure providers use local heat exchangers with chilled water. However, direct liquid cooling of the systems using non-chilled water is significantly more sustainable for maintaining a low data center carbon footprint. Standards bodies like ASHRAE make sure that compliance enables reliable operation when followed, and well-engineered reliable systems ensure that the increased compute performance does not necessitate non-linear increases in cooling requirements for the data center.

Evolving Ahead of Technology

With the rapid pace of technological innovation, we need everyone across the industry to be mindful of the environment and world where we live. I hold my teams accountable for considering environmental factors throughout the design process. While power, cooling and materials tend to be the go-to areas, I push my teams to expand beyond those, and warm water cooling is an excellent example of this.

Our data center systems industry requires an even larger view, taking into consideration the complete supply chain. From the smallest component in a server, to the processes we use for manufacturing, to the largest buildings housing servers, storage and networking, we all need to be leading when it comes to protecting the planet.

Industry standards are critical to ensure continued success. We need standards and industry consortiums to keep pace with the evolution of a data driven world, IoT devices and artificial intelligence. While standards and consortiums will evolve –  for example, ASHRAE, Energy Star, SPEC, EPEAT, Green Grid and LEED –  I challenge our industry to push the envelope in this area to protect our natural resources.

As I reflect on our industry this Earth Day, I see that there is still work to be done. I plan to challenge my own teams in all areas of environmental affairs and encourage my peers across the industry to do the same. I want to see sustainability remain a priority for all data center professionals. Is there anything new and innovative that your teams are doing to lower environmental impacts?

I would like to acknowledge and thank three of my colleagues at Lenovo Data Center Group – Meg McColgan, Director, Software Development and Support; Vinod Kamath, Principal Engineer; and Bob Wolford, Principal Engineer – for their contributions and assistance in writing this article.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Informa.

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.

 

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