It’s Time to Get Your Servers out of the Closet

Jun 9, 2016 | Data Centers, Insights

Environmentalist organizations often negatively target data centers because of their high energy usage. While it may be true that data center operators have a “responsibility and an opportunity to drive growth with renewable energy,” (Gary Cook, IT analyst at Greenpeace via The Atlantic) environmentalists should actually support data centers due to the fact that co-locating is much more efficient than operating equipment in a server room or IT closet in a corporate office. Furthermore, unlike many corporate offices, data center companies take it upon themselves to operate as efficiently as possible because it is in their best interest financially to do so.

The Urban Vs Rural Analogy

An effective analogy to illustrate this point is the energy efficiency of urban vs rural housing. Many people may look at a city and focus on the massive amount of power it consumes as a whole. At first glance, cities appear to be wasteful and anything but environmentally-friendly. However, people use far less energy per capita when they live in denser areas such as apartment buildings, rather than spread out in separate rural homes. The same concept is true for servers in data centers. Companies are able to utilize energy more efficiently when servers are housed together under one roof instead of scattered across individual office buildings.

Energy Efficiency, Consumption & C02 Emissions

According to a report compiled by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory, servers run much more efficiently in data centers than in server rooms, and the cost of energy consumption is lower. We added the annual CO2 emissions to this chart to compare environmental impacts.

*Calculations based on 10 servers per room with an average consumption of 500W each.

Why Server Rooms Are Inefficient

According to the Berkeley Lab’s report, server rooms account for over half of an office building’s energy usage in some cases. Most server rooms in office buildings were not originally designed to operate as server rooms. 1) There is no hot and cold air separation. Hot air from servers circulates freely about the room, raising room temperature, which consequently causes HVAC units to work harder to cool the area. 2) Older buildings often have HVAC systems that are not energy-efficient, and they were never meant to control the higher temperatures of server rooms. Purpose-built data centers are constructed and operated with efficiency in mind. In fact, one of the Berkeley Lab’s recommendations for improving energy efficiency in server rooms is, “Move to a more energy-efficient data center space.”

The Improvement Data Centers Provide

Modern, purpose-built data centers are carefully designed with efficient power equipment, cooling and air handling systems, raised floors and humidity control. They are designed with hot and cold aisles that allow for hot air exhaust to be efficiently extracted from the backs of server racks, rather than allowing it to circulate throughout the room. The power and cooling equipment that serves a multi-tenant data center serves hundreds of companies’ server footprints simultaneously. Data centers providing colocation are efficient because they leverage economies of scale.

A 2014 study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) states, “Because of the inherent space and resource limitations, the most effective measure is to operate servers through energy-efficient cloud-based services or well-managed larger data centers, rather than server rooms.”

Encouraging Energy-Efficiency in Colocation Data Centers

An article by Jason Verge posted on Data Center Knowledge, a popular publication site for the industry, calls for multi-tenant data centers to play an expanded role in energy efficiency. The article states that although multi-tenant data centers take advantage of economies of scale, “the data center owner pays the electricity bill, while tenants pay for blocks of power regardless of use.” This is only partially true, as applied to the way Data Foundry operates. If one of our tenant’s energy usage begins to exceed their contracted maximum limit, we will revise their contracted power agreement, and charge the customer according to their increased energy usage.

Data Foundry also helps new tenants plan the layouts of their deployments in our data centers, for maximum efficiency. Our infrastructure team is high-touch, and happy to assist customers with any recommendations regarding infrastructure setup and best practices.

As the need for data storage is inevitably going to continue to expand, the data center industry has a unique responsibility to continue to improve on energy efficiency. However, let’s not forget that massive data centers, although seemingly extravagant to some, use far less energy per server than small offices, and they can be centers of innovation when it comes to energy efficiency and data storage.