For Data Centers, Knowledge is (a Tool to Reduce Consumption of) Power

datacenterData centers get an oversized amount of attention because they use an oversized amount of energy. It’s been that way for a while, and will continue to be so. Increasingly, sophisticated measurement and management of what actually is happening in the data center is the key to reducing energy use and hiking efficiency.

The press release announcing CenturyLink is joining the Department of Energy’s Better Building Challenge points to previous energy efficiency steps that the company has taken in its data centers. They include the construction of a data center in Washington that gets 80 percent of its power from the Columbia River; being the first data center to use fuel cell technology from Bloom Energy; cutting power consumption by 30 percent in its Columbus, Ohio data center and pursuing Energy Star certification for 20 facilities.

It sounds as if CenturyLink sees more upside. “The potential is very significant, and as a data center operator we are continuously looking for ways to enhance the performance and efficiency of our facilities,” according to Bill Gast, CenturyLink’s Director of Global Data Center Energy Efficiency. “Due to the varied nature of our portfolio of data centers this requires not only a commitment but a sound strategy that I’m directing. No one solution will work in all of our facilities, for example, so we look at each data center taking into account its original design, age, and location to find areas where we can gain efficiencies. This includes cooling system innovation, taking advantage of new technologies, and having the appropriate resources and vision to implement a strategic approach to achieve our objectives.

The benefits of energy efficiency in the data center works at two levels: Saving money and improving the company image. The latter is important: A firm that reduces energy use and does so publicly – such as CenturyLink – gets a profile boost that can result in increased business and other benefits.

An HP website looks at how pivotal data centers are in this process. Data center efficiency improvements rely on very small tools. For instance, use of power and thermal monitoring and its associated software will find hot spots, which then can be eliminated. A little bit of hardware and software can go a very long way, according to the story:

A common complaint of IT managers is lack of data center space to add capacity. But often there is obsolete or under-utilized equipment that is unnecessarily driving up energy use and operational costs without delivered optimum value. Drawing insights from smart metering and the energy management software already built into many pieces of IT equipment, IT managers can pinpoint the underutilized and unused equipment, freeing up valuable data center rack and floor space, while reducing energy use and achieving reduction targets.

Measuring and managing what is the data center also is a key goal of Intel. Jeff Klaus, the General Manager of Data Center Solutions, posted a commentary at Data Center Frontier describing how the Intel is confronting the issue. Servers, he says, can use half of a data centers’ power – even when idle.

The variety of power measurement and control protocols, he wrote, make managing all this energy cumbersome. The solution settled upon by the chip maker was to develop and deploy Intel Data Center Management (DCM), a platform that “provides accurate, real-time power and thermal monitoring and management for individual servers, groups of servers, racks, and other IT equipment, such as PDUs.”

The piece does a good job of describing precisely what Intel DCM does and the benefits it offers. The key is that, as the HP piece suggests, being able to gather and analyze huge amounts of real time data leads to reduced power demands. More specifically, it improves accuracy and timeliness of capacity planning and assessment of cooling solutions and airflow design. Other benefits – such as reduced reliance on smart power strips and identification of “phantom servers” – also are realized.

CenturyLink’s Gast said the company is well on its way to achieving its energy efficiency goals. “In 2013 we started looking harder at this in our data centers, and ever since I’ve been on board, we’re full speed ahead on our commitment,” wrote Gast, who started with the company in 2014. “We have already achieved about 60 percent of the 25% commitment thanks to several things we’ve implemented, including using cutting-edge cooling systems technology like Chiller-in-a-Box.”

The Chiller-in-Box concept uses transference to generate efficiencies. “This cooling solution removes heat from one element by moving it to another element,” Gast wrote. “The contained offering cools water used in heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and typically runs 24 x 7. After absorbing heat from computers, the water is cycled via an external cooling tower, thus allowing heat to dissipate. Other innovations, like Oasis Indirect Evaporative Cooling (IEC), Integrated Waterside Economization, and the use of Danfoss Turbocor WT (a centrifugal compressor that creates premium energy efficiency to water, evaporative and air-cooled chillers and HVAC systems) are also driving more efficiencies.

The most dramatic gains in energy efficiency will be made in data centers simply because they are the biggest users of energy. Innovation – at CenturyLink and elsewhere – is sure to continue.

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