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Operating a data centre is expensive, but energy consumption is vital to the ongoing expenses of a data centre, which is one of the reasons why the industry is making such a drive for sustainability.

Today, the most significant cost of running a data centre is energy, with the average data centre spending 25% to 60% of its total expenses on energy consumption alone in the UK. It illustrates the need to act by integrating green technologies into new and legacy data centres.

What uses the most energy in a data centre?

Energy consumption is the biggest expense involved in running a data centre. This is because of the immense costs of running servers and the necessary cooling infrastructure. In fact, data centre energy consumption has grown so much that it now accounts for 3% of the global electricity supply.

So, what are the largest contributors to your data centre energy bill?

Servers/IT Equipment – Servers, storage and networking devices and peripherals are the largest energy consumers in data centres.
Cooling – Data centres generate massive amounts of heat. Advanced cooling systems, including chillers and air conditioning units, are required to prevent overheating.
Power Distributions – Data centres rely on Power Distribution Units (PDUs), including Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs), to distribute electricity and provide emergency power if outages occur.
Lighting – Whilst lighting doesn’t consume as much energy as servers and cooling systems, permanent lighting is required for maintenance, monitoring and accessibility. This fact alone means lighting contributes a large chunk to your energy expenditure.

Can data centres reduce their energy consumption?

Data centres can take action to reduce their energy consumption. Although data centres will always consume significant energy, taking steps can result in massive cost savings.
Actions like upgrading legacy technology, recycling old systems and using renewable energy sources are ways that data centres can tackle the sustainability issue.
Additionally, new data centres can focus on sustainability as part of a genuinely green data centre. The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact has already been established to set firm guidelines as to what constitutes a sustainable data centre.
For existing data centres, the path to sustainability will likely be a long-term endeavour because legacy hardware may need to be replaced within the boundaries of current budgets.

Tips on how to reduce costs of data centre energy bills

Utility bills are no small expense. Whilst some data centres may concede these as unavoidable expenses, creative problem-solving and a real commitment to sustainability can save data centres tens of thousands annually.
Follow these tips for some simple ways to reduce the cost of data centre energy bills:

Integrate modern cooling systems

Cooling systems are an enormous drain on your resources. Some estimates state that inefficient data centres could spend up to 60% of their utility bills on cooling alone.
By introducing next-generation cooling solutions however, companies can decrease their utility bills. Some ideas could include:
  • Deploying hot/cold aisle configurations.
  • Minimising bypass airflow.
  • Investing in air handlers and chillers.
Doing away with legacy cooling systems can reduce your energy wastage and allow you to take more control over environmental conditions, including temperature and humidity.

Software-powered smart design

Experts know that data centre efficiency boils down to choosing the solutions that cover the greatest workload with the lowest number of hardware pieces.
Identifying underutilised pieces of equipment and removing underused applications can lower your energy costs across the board. It’s also possible to remove “bloatware” from the equation.
Bloatware is ineffectual software that drains power from your data centre due to excessive CPU cycles.
In other words, software-powered smart design is based on limiting hardware and doing more with less.

Leveraging server virtualisation

Server virtualisation is a powerful tool enabling you to consolidate servers and storage as part of a single platform. Virtualisation allows you to segregate applications, data and operating systems.
Running applications on shared hardware via virtual machines reduces your need for space, more power, more cooling and more resources.
Note that server virtualisation cannot solve all of your problems. For example, you may still require underutilised equipment to handle peak loads. Either way, virtualisation still contributes to efficiently migrating your data centre’s workload.

Controlling airflow management

Airflow management is another crucial energy efficiency practice. For example, if your data centre has raised floors, there’s a strong possibility that you are experiencing uncontrolled air leakage. Sealing these raised floors and removing unnecessary blockages within would be one solution.
What if clutter control and underfloor blockages are irresolvable problems? In this case, consider installing overhead cable trays. According to Schneider Electric, overhead cable trays lead to a 24% reduction in cooling fan power consumption.

Switch to variable-speed fans

Another option for decreasing energy usage is moving to variable-speed fans. This move could provide a much-needed CPU fan speed reduction.
The beauty of these fans is that they only run at the required speeds when needed. This is because they operate using sophisticated thermostatic equipment.
You can apply this same principle to other devices beyond your servers. Consider examining the cooling features of hardware like UPSs.

Use liquid cooling solutions

High-performance hardware often experiences the trade-off between high-performance vs high energy consumption. This is why high-end equipment often relies on adopting liquid cooling for CPUs as standard.
Instead of using fans to move air across a heat sink, liquid cooling involves using a liquid, such as water, to dissipate heat.
Today, experts consider liquid cooling to be the gold standard of cooling when compared to air-cooling methods.

Increase the temperature

Once upon a time, raising the temperature within a data centre would be considered risky. However, equipment vendors have designed systems capable of operating at higher temperatures than usual.
Many servers can operate at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but most data centres still stick to the 65 degrees Fahrenheit guideline for temperature.
Raising the ambient temperature a few degrees can reduce your cooling systems’ power usage without impacting server performance. Moreover, taking this step requires no investment or overhead.

Power down inactive servers

Server virtualisation has demonstrated the sustainability advantages of doing more with your hardware to use less; but, why not power down entire servers that are not in use?
Too many data centres always keep them spinning because they want to have more business agility, but is it worth the thousands in costs that come with operating inactive servers?
Try searching for instances where servers can be powered down. The chances are, there may be some objections to this move, such as:
Lower Server Life Expectancy – The myth that power cycling lowers the server’s life expectancy is just that: a myth. Servers are built using the same components as hardware that’s commonly power cycled, including medical devices and vehicles.
Too Long to Power – Some people claim that servers take too long to power up. However, you can counter this by turning off boot-time diagnostic checks or booting from operational snapshots.
Customer Dissatisfaction – Users have shown they are willing to hang in there to get up and running. Most application architectures don’t decline user requests but slow them down; this has been shown to have zero impact on retention or satisfaction rates.
In short, servers are built to be switched on and off at will. If you have the budget for automation technology, you can even set up parameters that will automatically power up or down servers for maximum energy efficiency.

What is the most cost effective way to reduce energy consumption in data centres?

Upgrading your energy efficiency often means making significant investments; but, there are low-cost alternatives.
Upping the temperature is one option as part of controlled pilot experiments. On the other hand, you can also use “free” outside air-cooling to help harness the Earth’s natural resources.
Studies have shown that this option works incredibly well. For example, Intel saw a 74% reduction in power consumption after implementing free-air cooling. According to the computing giant’s findings, they saved $3 million in cost savings and used 76 million gallons of water less.

If you’re ready to reduce your energy bills for your data centre, contact the Keysource team today.

Whilst these steps can help, creating a green data centre with the help of professionals can always yield better results. Consulting with Keysource on upgrading your data centre or building a sustainable data centre from scratch can allow you to maximise efficiency opportunities.

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