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Cutting your data center energy could have broad benefits

by Dave Hannon

October 26, 2010

By Dave Hannon

Fact: Data centers were responsible for 1.5% of the electricity consumed in the U.S. in 2006 and could be up to nearly 3% this year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “Based on current trends, energy consumed by data centers will continue to grow by 12% per year,” the EPA said.

Fact: Energy-related costs account for approximately 12% of overall data center expenditure and are the fastest-rising cost in the data center, according to Gartner, Inc.

While those numbers may surprise non-IT professionals, those of you who spend any time in your data centers or server closets amidst the humming and the heat are probably not all that surprised. More data requires more servers which requires more energy. And — tragic irony alert — those higher energy costs are, to a very small extent, offsetting some of the efficiencies you seek by collecting more and more data.

“With upwards of 5% growth for server shipments predicted per year over the next two years, organizations need to forcefully control their energy consumption and costs," says Rakesh Kumar, research vice president at Gartner.

So it’s not a stretch to say the efforts in your IT organization to reduce the power in the data center can and likely will have a much larger impact than just saving your company money, although that’s likely your main motivation. In fact, the EPA estimates that a 10% reduction in the total energy used by data centers would amo unt to energy savings of 10.7 billion kilowatt-hours per year, or the equivalent of the electricity consumed by one million U.S. households.

But where do you start? Well, here’s a few tips on how to get started cutting the power your data centers use:

  • The U.S. Department of Energy web site has a page dedicated to data centers here:


  • The EPA’s Energy Star program also has a site dedicated to data centers:


  • When buying servers, consider what’s inside. The amount of energy required to run those servers could depend on what chips, drives and software you’re running.


  • Pay special attention to boxes running virtual servers. Virtualization is an effective cost strategy for many companies, but make an effort to maximize the energy savings by reviewing the energy requirements for those servers.


  • Talk to your cloud providers. There’s a lot to think about when moving to the cloud, including security of data, accessibility of data, capabilities of the provider, etc. But simply asking potential cloud providers about their energy management strategy will get the message out that customers have this on their checklist.


  • Look into PUE readings. Gartner says continuous power utilization efficiency (PUE) readings will become the norm for most large data centers, and by 2015, 80% of new large data centers will report continuous PUE readings across the data center.

Want an example case study on how to cut your power in the data center? Take a look at this case study on IBM’s web site.

Be sure to read Sarah Cenedella’s review of the Green IT discussion at SAP TechEd here.

Lastly, here’s a very interesting idea on how Helsinki, Finland is approaching the issue of excess heat created by data centers.

If you have more tips, post them here.

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