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Reaching Self-Actualization in IT Energy Efficiency

Data center operators can take the heat we don’t want in the data center and reuse it where needed, saving energy and lowering emissions. Companies around the world are already implementing this innovative heat reuse approach, sometimes referred to as "district heating."

Elisabeth Stahl is the Chief Technical Strategist, Performance Marketing for IBM Systems and Technology Group.


Anyone who took Psychology 101 in school remembers Maslow’s hierarchy. In this groundbreaking 1943 paper, Abraham Maslow outlined a pyramid to demonstrate the five distinct levels of human “need.” His pyramid showed basic, physiological needs at the bottom, more sophisticated needs at the top, all leading to the ultimate, final phase characterized by a profound level of “self-actualization” of identity and purpose.

However, this theory assumes that only personal growth can be achieved by moving through the five levels. In an interesting twist, we can actually apply Maslow’s hierarchy to data center energy efficiency, allowing us to ultimately realize the maximum potential for our IT organizations.

The world has grown passionately interested in energy efficiency within the data center in the last several years. As energy prices climb and organizations outgrow their power and cooling limits, it becomes imperative for data center managers to address IT energy efficiency through green initiatives. Many of us have become intimately familiar with recommendations for improving the efficiency of our data centers. Create those hot and cold aisles, use those pillows and baffles, update those cables and that lighting, consolidate and virtualize, and maybe try some innovative water cooling technology.

So what is the hierarchy for IT energy efficiency and how can we realize the full potential? Let’s outline it step by step:

  • Level One: The lowest level of this hierarchy is when energy is still seen as a basic commodity; it has no influence on data center choices. The infrastructure is not monitored and many hot spots exist on the data center floor;
  • Level Two: The next level assumes that some thermal monitoring is performed. Some simple decisions have been made to help the infrastructure such as straightforward consolidations and elementary server virtualization;
  • Level Three: In this stage, organizations have implemented tools to start actively monitoring IT and non-IT assets such as air conditioners.
  • Level Four: Next, we focus on more significant optimization including monitoring metrics such as the power usage effectiveness (PUE), more sophisticated virtualizations using storage and the network, and even potentially employing free cooling which can save thousands of dollars in cooling costs while simultaneously cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Level Five: Finally, the highest level, the “self-actualization” of data center energy efficiency, can be reached. Here we have the ultimate cooling and powering infrastructure. We see exploitation of the virtualized environment with significant workload management capabilities. This level is most notable for introducing the data center finally as an actual Energy Producer.

How cool is that? We can effectively take the heat we don’t want in the data center and basically reuse it where we need it while saving energy and lowering emissions.

Companies around the world are already implementing this innovative heat reuse approach, sometimes referred to as “district heating,” in a concentrated effort to reach their full potential as an energy producer. For example, by working with IBM, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich is building a first-of-a-kind water-cooled supercomputer dubbed Aquasar that will directly repurpose excess heat for the university buildings. The system, which also features a water-cooling system, is expected to cut energy consumption by 40% and carbon-dioxide emissions by up to 85%, resulting in dual IT savings.

Through adopting this final level of the IT energy efficiency hierarchy, we can build a scalable, flexible, and green data center that is dynamic in its infrastructure. Through this “self-actualization” we can potentially save on energy costs; as a producer we might also even be able to make money as well.

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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