4 ways to save green by going green
Environmentally friendly implementations can also save money
When Robert J. Carey, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for information management, integration and technology, spoke at the Arlington, Va.-based Defense Systems Summit 2011 Sept. 7, he brought up the fact that the Defense Department’s data centers are running at less than 15 percent of capacity. Carey, who is also the DOD’s deputy chief information officer, then discussed plans to increase that capacity to 75 percent. His keynote supported DOD CIO Teresa M. Takai’s announcement earlier this year that the organization is expected to shutter 44 data centers by the end of 2011.
While closing data centers definitely saves energy and money, this may not be a viable option for many organizations, especially those at the state and local level. In addition, even institutions like the DOD can and should continue to optimize the data centers that it keeps open. Technology, says Stuart Neumann, senior manager at London-based sustainability research and analysis firm Verdantix, can help drive efficiencies in the data center and across an enterprise.
“The low-hanging fruit is the data center and the desktop, and that’s being examined by the leading companies and organizations to reduce your carbon emissions and energy footprint,” he says. “And technology can be used to drive efficiencies in far more than just the data center.”
One of the first things that an organization must do is change the way they’ve looked at energy and power in the data center, says Konkana Khaund, Industry Manager-North America for Frost & Sullivan’s Environment & Building Technologies practice. “Computing demand is going to triple, and that’s going to keep pressurizing the data center so [IT managers] are going to have to find new ways to reduce energy use without getting rid of data centers.”
Khaund, along with Verdantix’s Neumann and San Murugesan, a senior consultant at Cutter Consortium, have identified four ways that organizations can do just that.
Take advantage of free cooling. The data center gets hot, and in most areas of the country, the outside temperature is considerably lower for a good portion of the year. Economizer systems take advantage of those cooler temperatures by bringing in outside air – as opposed to an air conditioner that cools the air inside -- effectively reducing energy use from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems by up to 50 percent. An even better option for those facilities located near water, says Khaund: Water chillers, which use water that circulates to absorb heat inside a data center and bring it outside where it can be dissipated. “Traditionally, you didn’t want water near machines. The fear was that it could lead to damages where you couldn’t retrieve data, but the perception is finally changing because the energy gains you’re going to see in the long run are large,” she says.
Use IT to tackle energy costs outside the data center and IT infrastructure. While servers and data centers do gobble their share of energy, they contribute only a fraction of an organization’s greenhouse gas emissions, says Cutter Consortium’s Murugesan, who is also the co-editor of Harnessing Green IT: Principles and Practices. In fact, IT is typically only responsible for between 2 and 3 percent of total emissions, with the rest originating elsewhere inside the business, says Murugesan.
There is software that can help reduce energy consumption across an organization by tracking energy usage, streamlining operations, and assessing environmental impact. “This software helps the business monitor energy usage, identify areas of savings, and launch new processes throughout the business.”
Consider container data centers. In a traditional data center, only 65 percent of space is being used, according to Khaund. This means an organization is spending money to heat, cool, and light space that’s not being used and never will be. She points to container data centers – also called modular unit supplementation – as a way to create a data center that is just big enough for what is needed today. “They’re stackable and you can supplement as you grow,” she explains. “You don’t have to plan and pay for the infrastructure costs you might need in three years, and if demand drops you can just pull the servers out and you’re done.”
Work with facilities to implement energy saving automation throughout the building. Two years ago, building elements such as lighting or heating were exclusively under the tutelage of the facilities manager. “Installing control systems were all point solutions at single sites rather than enterprise wide, and as a result the CIO [or IT manager] wasn’t getting involved,” says Verdantix’s Neumann. “Now, we’re at the stage where these things need to be automated enterprise wide so you need collaboration between the two.” The IT department, with input from facilities, can put into place water management systems, intelligent transport software, building management systems, supply chain controls, and lifecycle assessment software. “Cost is the primary driver, but there are environmental benefits in the form of carbon and energy savings, too,” he says.