Choosing the right data center is a complex decision that involves more than basic computing and data management needs. Data center efficiency is a key consideration that can have massive implications for a business. When assessing a data solution, it’s important to determine not only whether a facility can provide the services a company needs, but if it can also do so in the most efficient way possible. An inefficient data center can end up incurring much higher operating costs for a number of reasons.
Data center efficiency standards have improved immensely over the last decade. Where energy usage once grew by almost 25 percent per year from 2005 to 2010 (and a mind-boggling 90 percent during the previous five years), that number plummeted after 2010, falling to about four percent annual growth.
Despite these improvements, data center power consumption is still a major source of concern for energy sustainability advocates. More hyperscale facilities are being built every year, further contributing to the already massive 90 billion kilowatt hours of electricity that were consumed by US data centers alone in 2017.
Many organizations have already made substantial commitments to reducing their carbon footprint and embrace more sustainable energy solutions. This extends to their data center strategy, especially for companies that currently manage inefficient on-premises data solutions. Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) is a score that measures how efficiently a data center supplies its power and cooling needs.
While the global data center PUE average was 1.67 in 2019, hyperscale facilities and colocation providers typically report PUE figures in the range of 1.1 and 1.4. That’s because these data centers are typically newer and purpose-built to provide computing and interconnection services. On-premises data centers tend to be older, which means they don’t incorporate the latest best practices for data center operations or are located in a retrofitted site that wasn’t originally designed to accommodate computing workloads.
A poorly organized facility tends to have much higher operating costs than larger, more up-to-date data centers. That’s because their inefficiency ends up creating additional costs. In a badly-designed data center, less cold air from the cooling system is able to reach the server racks, causing them to run hotter and be more susceptible to failure and the resulting downtime. Rather than reorganizing the facility, many companies short-sightedly simply add more cooling capacity instead. But adding more equipment won’t do much to alleviate the underlying problem, which is that not enough cold air can physically reach the equipment. The facility ends up paying even higher cooling costs while not getting a corresponding improvement in performance.
Data center efficiency starts with well-considered design. In addition to optimizing the data floor to accommodate better air flow (incorporating, for example, hot aisle/cold aisle design), innovations in computing equipment can also improve efficiency without compromising performance. Low-power processor chips, solid state hard drives, and server virtualization have all enabled data centers to do more with less, especially when used at scale.
Power efficient servers and efficient cabling strategies provide physical solutions, but data center operations are also critical to driving efficiency. With sophisticated analytics analyzing data center infrastructure at all times, data center managers can design and implement strategies to run their facilities more effectively. Network systems can be set up to incorporate best practices such as standby mode while also making sure that server workloads are making the best use of available computing power. A server that’s only using 20 percent of its available processing resources is using far more than 20 percent of its power requirements, so distributing that workload to other machines that are already up and running can translate into major energy savings.
Data centers can also diversify their energy sources, either by providing their own renewable energy or purchasing it from other providers. Many facilities around the world are seeking to incorporate renewables like solar, wind, and geothermal energy to supplement their existing power sources. Other data centers invest in sustainability by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), making them key stakeholders in an emerging industry.
Whether they’re building their own data solution or colocating assets with a third-party provider, companies need to think long and hard about data center efficiency. Using an inefficient facility for their computing and networking needs will end up costing them substantially more in operating expenses. For organizations committed to sustainability, an inefficient data center is also a potential public relations nightmare. Relying on a facility that consumes excessive amounts of energy can greatly undermine ongoing sustainability efforts and investments in other areas of a business.