Data Center Energy Efficiency

In today’s world, electronic data processing (EDP) and its applications are indispensable for commercial enterprises, governments and individuals that are daily expanding value-added uses such as flight routing, genome analyses, illness diagnosis, homeland security, commerce and banking, space exploration, and personal communications. Concomitantly, the growth of EDP has resulted in growing electric power demand for data centers, not all of which is being efficiently used. A New York Times article from September 23, 2012, Power, Pollution and the Internet states: “Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid.”

To lower power usage in data centers, a number of initiatives have appeared in the past quarter century. EPA established the first Energy Star voluntary specifications for computers in 1992. More recently these efforts led to the Data Center Industry Agreement on Energy Efficiency Guiding Principles (2010) which standardizes energy efficiency measurements, metrics and reporting conventions for data centers. EPA followed in 2011 with Recommendations for Measuring and Reporting Overall Data Center Efficiency, providing industry standards for measuring the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) at data centers. Further, there has been significant research into how to conduct computerized business operations, including software development, to reduce energy usage. 

Notably, voluntary initiatives to address energy consumption at data centers have focused on five areas: (1) improved IT equipment, (2) airflow management, (3) energy efficient software development, (4) reduced distance from energy sources, and (5) HVAC adjustments. The Green Grid consortium promotes voluntary data center best practices through its Next-Generation Data Center Development initiative. Some technologies being developed include:

  • Virtualization of servers, data storage strategies, decommissioning or consolidation of unused or lightly used servers, purchase of efficient equipment, containment enclosures, variable speed drives, blanking panels, temperature and humidity adjustments, air and water economizers, and increased deployment     of solid state devices,
  • Energy consumption monitoring and reporting; hot aisle/cold aisle arrangement,
  • Obtaining further efficiencies from computing software and power conversion, fully automated storage tiering, data de-duplication, private and hybrid clouds, and alternate backup power to replace diesel generators, and
  • Metrics for "Data Center Productivity" (DCP), and effectiveness: "Power Usage" (PUE), "Carbon Usage" (CUE), and "Water Usage" (WUE).

In promoting non-regulatory strategies for achieving green data centers, EEMI will emphasize consensus standards and voluntary initiatives such as those mentioned above that have played a major role in improving the environmental footprint of EDP.

Focal area lead: Dr. Howie Huang – Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, SEAS, GW