Facilities, IT and Data Center Power

Organizations are under pressure to reduce their environmental impacts. One metric being scrutinized is the amount of Green House Gasses (GHGs) being released into the atmosphere. At first blush this would not seem relevant to data centers, but when you stop and look at their explosive growth, this focus becomes understandable.

In 2006, an EPA report identified that U.S. data centers consumed 1.5% of all power generated (that was 61 billion kilowatt hours!) and that consumption was expected to grow at 12% annually. The EPA estimated that at that rate of growth, at least 10 new power-generation facilities would be needed by 2011.

All that power comes at an environmental cost – approximately 48% of generation, the largest percentage, comes from coal. With the burning of the coal comes GHGs, notably carbon dioxide, that are released into the atmosphere. Concerns over global warming being exacerbated by human activities will likely lead to regulation of GHG emissions. In turn, organizations will be forced to make economic decisions around buying carbon credits, taking action to reduce emissions and so forth.

The fact that data centers consume so much power will likely cause increased scrutiny of their actions in the not so distant future. This will cause pressure to reduce power consumption. The environmental concern intersects with a number of other forces at play as well – notably the ever present need to cut costs and the constraints present in many data centers in terms of how much power and cooling they can accommodate. If these latter two constraints are not addressed, then a data center will not be able to add hardware to support the business.

All of this background information is given for a reason – an organization needs to better manage data center power consumption. Traditionally, electric power utilization has not been an area that the Board or senior management focused on. Indeed, even today most CIOs have no idea what the data center monthly electric costs are.

CIO accountability

If we look at large enterprises, over the years two separate silo’d organizations have arisen – IT and facilities. IT is tasked with creating and protecting value through IT services. As such, they manage development, purchasing of technology, implementation of hardware, ongoing operations and so forth.

The facilities team often reports up through a corporate real estate or property management group. As a shared service, the facilities team, or a specific data center facilities group, is tasked with providing power and cooling to the data center. The facilities team gets the utility bills, handles maintenance contracts relating to the buildings and mechanicals, service upgrades, and so forth.

The challenge is that the two groups don’t necessarily have the same objectives and don’t always work together to benefit the overall entity. For example, if IT is poor at forecasting demand and the facilities team tries to compensate by making worst-case estimates, then poor utilization of the power and cooling infrastructure may result. This is problematic because as utilization decreases, energy efficiency decreases as well.

Instead, to combat the rising demand for power while supporting the business, these two groups must work together. Only through careful planning and execution can capacity be properly planned and delivered in a manner that improves both energy and cooling. To facilitate coordination, there are two potential approaches to consider – structural change and objective alignment.

The first approach is for the Board and senior management to hold the CIO accountable for reductions in energy consumption in the data center. As part of this, the facilities engineering team is re-tasked to report to the CIO. This then gives the CIO both the accountability and means to better manage both supply and demand. The premise is that by consolidating accountability power will be better managed.