Boosting data center efficiency without upfront costs

Third of four parts.

Organizations from the Energy Department’s Hanford site in Washington to the state government of Utah are finding significant savings from data center consolidation. But do they have to spend money to save money?

More in this series

The game changes for data center consolidation

It's not just the number of data centers to be shuttered, but the size of those centers and the energy they consume. Read more.

State finds power in data center consolidation

Utah’s state government cut its number of servers from 1,864 to 591 and saved $4 million on its IT budget. Read more.

6 steps to data center savings

The goal of any consolidation project is savings. Here’s a checklist to help make sure things go right. Read more.

Federal agencies considering creative ways to finance the data center upgrades needed to achieve maximum returns from consolidation might consider using Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs), which allow agencies to finance energy savings projects without upfront capital outlays. Instead, the contractor is paid back out of future energy savings.  

In an ESPC, an agency partners with an energy services company, which performs an energy audit, comes up with a plan for improving energy use and arranges private-sector financing for the project, according to DOE. The energy company guarantees that the project will produce enough energy cost savings — in no more than 25 years — to pay for the work. After it’s paid for, any extra savings go back to the company.

The Veterans Affairs Department used ESPC funds for the air conditioning upgrade at its data center. EPSCs have “been around for a while, but it’s a fairly new concept in the data center and IT environment,” said Jay Owen, vice president of Schneider Electric IT Federal Solutions, which did the air conditioning upgrade for VA.

“Most data centers in the federal market are fairly old, and the heating, cooling and power infrastructure was designed for much lower density equipment," Owen said. "If you bring in all of these virtualized IT systems, it’s not going to work with the current infrastructure, or, if it does work, it will be very inefficient.”

To solve this problem, Schneider and other vendors are offering high-density pods that can be deployed like building blocks in an existing data center to gradually improve energy efficiency and drive down electric bills. The pods have localized cooling in the equipment racks, which is more efficient than floor-based air conditioning. Military and intelligence agencies are among the early adopters of pods.

“Here is a systematic approach to let you migrate older data centers into a consolidated site over time,” Owen said. “You are asking for a much smaller chunk of money as opposed to gutting an entire facility and retrofitting it up front. With the pods, you can get from a [power usage effectiveness rating] of about 3.0, which is average for a legacy data center, to the 1.5 to 1.6 range.”

“It’s not as good as if you were building a state-of-the-art data center, but it’s pretty close.”

About the Author

Carolyn Duffy Marsan is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisc., covering enterprise technology.

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