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Working towards the green data centre

Bonnie Gardiner | May 5, 2015
The standard data centre will one day run on renewable energy and green technologies. But how far do we have to go before this is a reality?

David Rinard, senior director, global sustainability and procurement at Equinix's global design and construction department, says the success of green computing strategies depends on commitment, foresight and a willingness to try new technologies.

"We have been designing and operating energy-efficient data centres since our 1998 founding, while employing numerous leading-edge techniques," he says.

"Our job is to make Internet data as globally available as possible, but we are equally obligated to make it as green as possible."

The 451 report notes, however, that as large Internet operators continue to grow, it is not clear whether their investments in renewable energy capacity will be able to keep pace.

Cooling power
Some companies are seeking other environmentally friendly means of cooling data centres, with Facebook relying on a fresh air system and evaporative cooling to maintain humidity and heat removal in its data centres, instead of running air conditioners around the clock.

Others may relocate data centres to cooler climates to help reduce energy needed to power cooling infrastructure, or opt to let the servers run hot.

Many infrastructure managers today have resigned themselves to running servers hotter than is recommended, after realising the impact on the equipment is not as harsh as previously thought.

"The failure rate of equipment might not be much higher if you have a few degrees of increased temperature in the data centre," Gedda says.

"There's a school of thought that you should keep the data centre as cool as possible, but if the failure rate only increases marginally with a hotter environment but the energy savings were quite dramatic, then you've gained some environmental impact.

Social responsibility
Such actions serve not only to reduce carbon footprint but also as an affordable means of doing so, without having to make too much further investment.

"Carbon emission avoidance is less of a priority and is usually driven by marketing, or a corporate social responsibility agenda," says Andrew Donoghue, European research manager for 451 Research and author of the report.

Compulsion has also played a role in data centre renewable investments, due to pressure from regulators, environmental groups and customers to reduce carbon emissions and energy wastage.

Energy efficiency is a necessary pre-condition for the effective use of renewable energy, however, and could be viewed as a stepping stone toward not only more energy, but also more carbon efficient facilities, adds Donoghue.

"Saving energy and eliminating [inefficient] equipment may have immediate and long-term financial benefits in addition to carbon reduction," he says.

Financial pros and cons
Despite many being driven by reputation or altruism, the report finds the vast majority of data centres continue to be more focused on the financial benefits of general energy efficiency measures.


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