Businesses Measure Data Center Efficiency to Create a Greener Future

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By: Jacqueline Lee|

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A colocation or cloud services provider must maintain data center efficiency to keep costs down. Power-usage effectiveness (PUE) — the ratio between the power used by IT equipment and the total power used in the facility — is one way to gauge how a provider can keep energy costs low. For example, a 1.0 PUE suggests an efficient data center, whereas a 2.0 ratio suggests inefficient power usage. According to Network Computing, a data center with a PUE of 1.7 over a 10-year period costs 48 percent more than a data center that scores 1.15. PUE, however, isn’t the only factor influencing data center efficiency and environmental impact.

PUE and Data Center Efficiency

Power within a data center, according to Data Center Journal, breaks down roughly into four main usage areas:

  1. IT and Networking Equipment: 50 percent
  2. Cooling: 35 percent
  3. Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) and Transformers: 11 percent
  4. Lighting and Other Overhead: 4 percent

Consolidating IT workloads makes the biggest dent in PUE, because these account for half of all data center power. To that end, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that virtualization alone can cut energy costs between 10 and 40 percent.

Decommissioning unused servers, consolidating the workloads of lightly used servers and making storage more efficient is one way to slash power usage. In addition, automation management systems can help data center administrators monitor server, storage and network equipment performance while identifying opportunities to improve data center efficiency.

The Limits of PUE

A data center that employs a server consolidation project reduces power usage of its IT equipment. But here’s the catch: Although fewer servers should generate less heat and may run on smaller UPS systems, there’s no guarantee these facilities-related power usage costs will decrease to the same degree IT networking power consumption decreased. Consolidating servers can inadvertently worsen PUE, even when data center efficiency and improves overall. Therefore, it’s a good idea for organizations to think beyond simple PUE when choosing colocation and cloud services providers.

Power Sources Affect Cost

To that end, now is a good time to use data centers powered by natural gas. Data Center Journal notes natural-gas prices are at the lowest in 17 years, but costs are projected to increase through next winter. With this in mind, businesses may want to lock in low natural-gas prices now to stimulate lower power costs down the road.

At the same time, many organizations prefer to use data centers using renewable energy sources. Data Center Journal reports 63 percent of businesses have corporate sustainability policies that include renewable energy components, and 68 percent are willing to pay a premium for renewables.

In most organizations, balancing renewable energy costs with available tax credits and other green incentives requires interdepartmental collaboration. Jay Dietrich, a key player in IBM’s achievement of the 2016 EPA Climate Leadership Award, says that when it comes to data center efficiency, businesses should look for the sweet spot between pursuing cost effectiveness measurements like PUE and advocating for a more sustainable future for everyone.

“Businesses are very large consumers of materials and energy in their operations and in the services and products they provide,” Dietrich says. “When we take action to make those reductions, they can have a very large impact.” Reducing the carbon footprint at an enterprise level is not only good for business — it also takes a step toward a greener planet.

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About The Author

Jacqueline Lee

Freelance Writer

Jacqueline Lee specializes in business and technology writing, drawing on over 10 years of experience in business, management and entrepreneurship. Currently, she blogs for HireVue and IBM, and her work on behalf of client brands has appeared in Huffington Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine. In addition to writing, Jackie works as a social media manager and freelance editor. She's a member of the American Copy Editors Society and is completing a certificate in editing from the Poynter Institute.

Articles by Jacqueline Lee
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