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BLOG: Beyond energy efficiency - ROI for sustainable data centres

Peter Halliday | May 3, 2013
What are the challenges of operating energy efficient data centres and how operators can increase energy efficiency by adopting green practices at the infrastructure level?

In March this year, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) launched the BCA-IDA Green Mark for New Data Centres. This would be targeted at data centres that fulfil the established green standards, and it comes ahead of the opening of a data centre park in Singapore in 2016.

As Singapore grows to be a data centre hub, both the IT industry and building authorities are emphasizing the importance of energy efficient data centres. With servers running 24X7 under tightly controlled environmental conditions and often not at full capacity, data centres are among the world's largest consumers of energy. IDA estimates that energy consumption accounts for more than 50% of the operating expenditure in a typical data centre in Singapore.

In order for today's data centres to be sustainable, both economically and environmentally, disjointed energy measures are insufficient. There needs to be an integrated approach to data centre infrastructure in order for genuine energy optimization to be realized.

Environmental footprint of data centres

Energy consuming operations

Data centres consume more energy than any other building in the world as they operate without downtime in tightly controlled environments. Due to their energy-demanding operations, they are major carbon emitters. Environmental groups estimate that data centres contribute around two percent of the world's total carbon emissions and are expected to overtake the airline industry in the amount of carbon emitted by 2020. 

Disjointed energy measures

Due to the heat-and-moisture sensitivity of IT equipment, data centres require strictly controlled humidity and temperature levels. Disjointed energy measures, such as trying to optimize ventilation systems in order to affect the facility's cooling needs, are often used to reduce the operating energy demand. These measures are stop-gap solutions as they do not affect or increase a data centre's energy efficiency, instead they merely mitigate the effects of a poorly designed data centre.

Mapping out a green data centre

With a Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) system, data centres are able to map out an outline for environmentally sustainable and high performing operations. This in turn will enable them to maximize their full potential, in terms of energy consumption, life cycle, asset management and operational efficiency, which leads to smaller real estate requirements and decreased operating costs.

The outline typically consists of the following elements.

Maximizing cooling efficiency

With sophisticated airflow management, hot- or cold-aisle containment, efficient cooling and patented heat recovery systems, data centre operators are able to adjust the environmental conditions in the data centres according to actual cooling demands. This optimizes the facility's cooling efficiency, which in turn leads to a lower amount of energy consumed during day-to-day operations.


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