7 Tips for Reducing Physical Data Center Infrastructure Energy Consumption

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I recently came across one of our Schneider Electric white papers from a couple of years ago that was all about reducing energy consumption attributed to physical infrastructure in federal data centers. At the time (and probably still), federal agencies were trying to comply with a 2007 directive aimed at improving environmental, energy and economic performance.

It was clear to me that the practical advice in the paper could apply in any data center, not just those operated by the feds, so I thought I’d share some highlights here.  I’ll skip some of the tips that should (I hope) be old hat by now, like hot aisle/cold aisle arrangements, and focus instead on items that we don’t hear about enough or that simply bear repeating.

1. Powering off unused equipment.

This one falls squarely in the “bears repeating” category but I bring it up because we have seen advances in power equipment and software that make this task a whole lot easier. Take virtualization, for example. With the appropriate management tools, you can shift whole loads around by time of day and shut down lots of servers for hours at a time.

2. Instrumentation to monitor energy consumption.

With today’s data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools, you can instrument your data center to identify and warn about conditions that generate sub-optimal electrical consumption and quickly correct energy waste situations.

3. High-efficiency UPS

UPS systems are too often installed and forgotten, but they consume considerable power. Like replacing your old refrigerator with an Energy Star model, you can substantially increase the efficiency of your UPSs by installing newer, high-efficiency models. According to figures from Lawrence Berkley National Labs cited in the white paper, at 30% load the newest UPS systems pick up over 10% in efficiency when compared to the average of currently installed UPS systems. Now there’s a simple way to determine which UPSs are most efficient, as UPSs were recently added to the Energy Star program – and, as we’ve covered previously, Schneider Electric was first to have approved products.

4. Variable Frequency Drives (VFD)

Many electric motor-driven devices in the data center operate at full speed even when the loads they are supporting require less capacity. Variable frequency drives (VFDs) help to match the output of the fan to the load, maximizing efficiency in the process. Management software works with thermal sensors on the devices to regulate fan speed in real time – so you don’t have to.

5. Modular containerized solutions

With respect to the ability to achieve electrical efficiencies in their power and cooling distribution systems, federal agencies, like many other organizations, are often constrained by attributes of the buildings in which their data centers live. But, as we’ve covered previously, manufacturers are now building modular, containerized power and cooling systems that help companies get around these constraints. The systems are packaged, shipped and installed as a container that plugs into an existing building, bringing rapid increases in efficiencies to existing data centers.

6. Hot aisle containment

Here’s another issue we’ve hit on previously – such as here and here. Simply put, a hot-aisle containment system (HACS) traps all the hot air coming from your IT racks so it doesn’t mix with your cool air and thus provides greater efficiency. As explained in the white paper:

Cooling set points can be set higher while still maintaining a comfortable work environment temperature. Retrofitting an existing perimeter-cooled, raised floor data center with HACS can save 40% in the annual cooling system energy cost corresponding to 13% reduction in the annualized PUE. For more information on hot-aisle containment, see White Paper 135, Hot-Aisle vs. Cold-Aisle Containment for Data Centers.

7. Scalable power and cooling to enable rightsizing

I’ve saved the best for last in terms of what will bring you the greatest savings by enabling you to right-size the physical infrastructure to the IT load. Again quoting from the white paper:

Scalable physical infrastructure solutions that can grow with IT load offer a major opportunity to reduce electrical waste and costs. Right-sizing has the potential to eliminate up to 50% of the electrical bill in real-world installations. The compelling economic advantage of right-sizing is a key reason why the industry is moving toward modular, scalable physical infrastructure solutions.

Keep in mind that was written about 2 years ago and these modular systems have only gotten better since. More recent Schneider Electric research shows modular systems can reduce not only your electric bill but your total cost of ownership by about 30% as compared to the traditional approach.

For more tips, check out white paper number 250, Guide for Reducing Data Center Physical Infrastructure Energy Consumption in Federal Data Centers

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