Going Green in the Data Center

Just because IT budgets leave little room for feel good stuff doesn’t mean corporate hearts aren’t beating or that environmental concerns are being pushed to the back burner; boiled down to a stew of buzzwords. In fact, the opposite is true. Taking IT green may just be the first initiative corporate has found to be truly doable.

Robert Aldrich, principal, Energy Efficient Solutions at Cisco, said one of the biggest reasons why publicly traded corporations are adopting, and in many cases driving, a green agenda is “… the realization that the environment and economy are no longer at odds. In fact, they never have been for those who have studied sustainability. Going green is about reducing waste. Reducing waste saves money.”

As with any broad brush buzzword, confusion reigns around what “going green” really means, particularly in terms of capital expenditures and practical movement. Koisk said when looking at specific “greening” activities for a data center, there are typically lots of low hanging fruit related to the power and cooling systems that will have simple paybacks in one or two years. Some have instant paybacks because there are no capital costs involved such as adjusting set points for temperature and humidity, minimizing raised floor leakage, optimizing control and sequencing of cooling equipment, and optimizing air management on the raised floor to eliminate hot spots, which reduces the need to sub-cool the air.

Other upgrades, he said, which are much more substantial in first costs will have paybacks closer to five years. These are upgrades that are done to not only increase energy efficiency but also to lengthen the life of the facility and increase reliability. These types of upgrades typically include replacement of central cooling plant components, such as chillers, pumps and cooling towers, as well as electrical distribution such as UPS and power distribution units.

“A thorough analysis, including initial cost, energy cost, operational costs and green house gas emissions, is the best way to judge the viability of different projects,” advises HP’s Koisk.

The real shocker to companies first setting out on the green path is that some of the biggest steps are not in the direction one would assume. “Most clients are surprised to learn that 60 to 70 percent of the energy used in a data center is on the physical infrastructure equipment and only 30 to 40 percent on the IT equipment,” said Cefola. “What clients should aim to do is change the equation around so that more energy is used on the productive use of IT. In order to do this, they need to address both sides of the equation.”

Even with the energy savings, the reduction in wastes, the strain of rising energy costs, and the fear of future regulation, not every company is far enough along in its data center life cycle to justify a forklift upgrade.

“Any new technology will typically be more expensive than its predecessor from a capital expenditure standpoint. In the case of going green it’s much more about the operational savings you achieve,” said Aldrich. “This is why it is so important to properly plan the business case for going green.”