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Greener Data Centres: Practices & Examples

Updated on October 7, 2015
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Data Centres & the Environment

There have been a number of different studies in the past few years that have pointed out the environmental impact of technology, and in particular data centres. A study in 2008 by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. came to the conclusion that by 2020, as the popularity and need for data centres continued to rise, the data centre industry would be producing more greenhouse gases than airlines. Since the energy-efficient spotlight fell on the data centre industry, much more focus has been put on improving the green credentials of data centres and their environmental impact. So what can data centres do to become ‘greener’?

Green Data Centre Practices

  • Improve cooling systems – This is a big one. Data centres do not just use electricity to power their computer and server equipment, a great deal of energy is often used to simply keep the centre cool. There are a variety of ‘greener’ techniques that can be used to keep the temperature down – these can include using cool ambient air or using evaporating water.
  • Turn the temperature up – It has become something of a misconception that server rooms and data centres need to be kept at a constant temperature of around 21 degrees Celsius. In fact, many types of data centre equipment can function just as well at 26 or 27 degrees – reducing costs and the need for such high amounts of cooling.
  • Utilise built in energy-efficient features – Configure your equipment so that power is cut off to empty or unused ports. You can also reduce power to equipment when it is inactive to decrease energy usage.
  • Monitor your data centre – Make sure that you know what temperature your data centre is running at and what your Power Usage Effectiveness ratio is. If you don’t know how energy efficient you are currently, then you cannot effectively decide how to improve.
  • Optimise airflow – Managing your airflow is highly important for running a data centre efficiently. Utilise air containment systems to ensure that your cold air and warm air are where they need to be. Containment systems often make use of plenums; these are separate spaces that the air can travel through without mixing with air of a different temperature.
  • Think about hot/cold aisles – This is a practice often utilised in colocation centres and can be a useful way of saving energy. Cold aisles are where the front of the servers face the air conditioning output ducts, while hot aisles are where the servers’ exhausts are facing the air conditioning intake duct). Utilising hot and cold aisles can help to better manage air flow and reduce energy wastage.
  • Use efficient power distribution – Make sure that your uninterruptible power supply is high-efficiency as this is where the majority of power in a data centre can be lost. Eliminate unnecessary conversion steps and invest in energy efficient transformers to minimise power distribution losses.
  • Sell & recycle – Don’t just throw away unwanted or unused equipment. If the equipment has not been used you can easily sell it on to someone that needs it. Equipment that has been used or that no longer works can be wiped and refurbished. If the equipment is truly at the end of its life, some companies may be able to extract the valuable materials and will dispose of the equipment in an environmentally friendly way.

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Green Data Centres: Facebook

A number of companies are now choosing to work towards running their data centres in a much more energy efficient and environmentally friendly way. Many of the new data centres that are currently under construction are being built to high environmental standards.

Facebook has been working hard to boost the green credentials of its existing data centres and the new ones that are being built. The new data centre in Prineville, Oregon, is said to use 38% less power than other data centres. The centre tries to use the outside air instead of relying solely on air conditioners and the hot air is reused heat to adjoining offices in the winter. Facebook’s newest data centre in Lulea, Sweden, also makes great use of the ambient air temperature and should need 70% fewer backup generators. Facebook also build their own servers, to optimise their usage, and have cut out the use of non-essential parts – saving production costs. Both Facebook and Google have made the ‘green’ innovations that they use in their data centres available to the public, in the hopes of improving the environmental credentials of the data centre industry as a whole.

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Other Green Data Centres

There are a number of other ‘green’ data centres worldwide. The Green Mountain Data Centre, which is currently being built under the mountains in Norway, will be powered by renewable hydroelectric energy resources and will use the cold water from nearby fjords for cooling. The developers of Apple’s data centre in North Carolina aim to power the centre with biogas from landfills and will utilise solar power. The Verne Global data centre in Iceland does not use chillers to keep cool, but instead makes use of the natural cold Icelandic environment. The centre is also completely powered by renewable resources. General Electric’s data centre in Louisville uses high density servers to save floor space and utilises a high efficiency cooling system. Almost a third of all building materials were recycled materials and 85% of construction waste was recycled.

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