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How data centers are reducing their massive energy usage

October 10, 2017

By Phil Pinson

Chances are a data center isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of energy-efficient buildings. And two decades ago that assumption would’ve been spot on.

However, times have changed - and so have data centers. Tech companies are growing and so is the amount of data they are storing, but these companies are increasingly aware of the massive electrical costs of operating a data center. As Emily Holbrook wrote in Energy Manager Today, “Developing sustainable, energy efficient operating measures has become a priority within the industry.”

Holbrook’s article details the advances data centers are making to become more energy efficient and what it means for the industry.

Virtualization

Server virtualization is one of the most effective ways data center managers have found to get the most out of their servers. According to an article from How Stuff Works, “Most servers only use a small fraction of their overall processing capabilities . . . as a computer network gets larger and more complex, the servers begin to take up a lot of physical space.”

Virtualization uses special software that converts a single server into multiple virtual ones. It’s theoretically possible that the virtual servers can use the full processing power of a single physical server. According to Holbrook, this means that “an existing or a standard data center facility can be used to host multiple virtualized data centers on the same physical infrastructure.”

Server virtualization, consolidation of lightly used servers, and better data storage management are helping data centers optimize infrastructure but also reduce significant amounts of energy.

Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE)

Another energy savings technique that data centers are making use of is the optimization of Power Usage Effectiveness, or PUE.

Quoting Holbrook, “PUE represents the ratio of total energy consumed by a data center to the energy delivered to computing equipment.” A PUE of 2 means an equal amount of energy is being used for both computing purposes and for cooling, lighting, and other non-computing purposes. An ideal PUE is 1; 1 unit of energy used by the data center converts to 1 unit of energy delivered to computing uses.

Holbrook says the current PUEs are in the 1.3 - 1.5 range, though 20 years ago they were at 2. These are big changes, and changes made solely within the data center industry.

Toward an efficient future

With data centers using up to 3% of all U.S. electricity, tech companies that operate data centers employ a myriad of tactics to decrease the amount of energy used per month. Some other tactics that are proving to be effective are implementing power-saving “stand-by” modes, utilizing energy monitoring software, upgrading to more efficient lighting and cooling systems, and building in cooler climates.

A large reason data centers are becoming such a focal point in sustainability is their predictable level of energy use month to month. With a solid, almost unchanged baseline every month, testing new energy savings tactics is quicker and more effective in data centers; think of them like the closest thing the energy industry has to a controlled group used for experimentation.

Regardless of which industry you work in as an energy manager, you can learn some valuable lessons from data centers. They’re still high-usage facilities, but they’re trimming as much fat as possible. To see ways you can start trimming energy costs, download our ebook of 2017 Top Energy Reduction Tactics.

Phil Pinson

Phil joined Lucid as a Sales Engineer in 2016 with 10+ years of experience in the energy sector scoping technical SaaS-based solutions. More specifically his experience relates to budgets & procurement, utility bill management, sustainability & reporting, facility analysis & optimization, project tracking, demand response & energy management, and distributed energy resources.