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Zen and the Art of Data Center Greening (and Energy Efficiency)
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Is Curbing Data Center Power Consumption Enough? What’s Beyond It?

Posted By Zen Kishimoto, Monday, August 31, 2009
In the past two years, people were made aware that power consumption was running out of control and that some kind of control needs to be in place at data centers. Then, out of the blue, various regulations on GHG emissions were center stage. What do data center operators need to do to understand the entire picture, much less to provide solutions? 

If I take a look at power consumption beyond data centers, my current thinking is that the market will follow this sequence:
  1. Mitigation with power consumption
  2. Mitigation with energy consumption
  3. Carbon footprint awareness
  4. Renewable energy
  5. Smart grid

Among the above, I think the mental transition from #1 to #2 is one of the biggest changes. Power is power no matter how it is generated. However, once you realize that power is the transformation of energy from many sources, the whole picture changes completely. It opens up the discussion of how power is generated and how much GHG entered the atmosphere because of it. Then, what are the remedies for that? A clear solution seems to be to exploit renewable energy sources and construct new infrastructure, namely smart grid.

The market is far more complex than what I just described, and there are people and companies working in each field (and sometimes in multiple fields) simultaneously in conjunction with other fields.

I sound like we should forget about #1 since the new requirements are beyond #1. However, interestingly enough, we cannot abandon #1 since #1 is the only way to get some tools to tackle #2 and #3. As stated in my previous blogs and elsewhere, very few data center operators actually monitor and measure power consumption. Companies like SynapSense, Sentilla, and Sensicast provide hardware and software to monitor and measure power consumption and display the result in a dashboard format. Once power consumption information is obtained, it is trivial to convert it to an amount of GHG emissions using a conversion table suitable for the region of the data center in question.

The U.K.’s Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) will take effect next April, and it will force large data center operators like Digital Realty Trust (which has an international presence, including in the U.K.) to implement solutions on their own. I recently read an article entitled “How to Cope with CRC in U.K.” I do not think the author was kidding, but his conclusion was to start monitoring and measuring power consumption. Actually, that is the only thing any company can do. Unless you know how much power is consumed by whom and in what way, there is no way to reduce power consumption.

The CRC is based on power consumption. If you use power generated solely by renewable energies, then you may not emit too much GHG. But you may still get penalized if your power consumption is more than it was in the benchmark year (2008). This is not very fair, but this problem was not mentioned by Zahl Limbuwala.The oversight is because there are not many companies that can drive their operations using power generated by renewable energies alone.

When I looked at data centers solely supported by renewable energies about six months ago, there was only one. But recently, there are several more data centers supported by the renewable energy sources of solar and wind. This obviously is a good idea for coping with GHG regulations and providing extra power for data centers. Life, however, is not that simple, as data centers need to have access to the fiber access lines to the Internet. Often good locations for renewable energy sources are far away from where the power is most needed. This poses a few challenges. One is energy storage and the other is the necessity of constructing additional transmission lines and the expansion of their capacities. This leads to the solutions provided by smart grid.

Tags:  Beyond power monitoring  Carbon  CRC  Renewable energies  Smart Grid 

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