Apps boost data centre energy appetite

Virtualization has increased the efficiency of data centers by improving server utilization, but continued demand for new applications means data centre operators will have to look at other options for reducing their energy needs.

While there is plenty of data that underlines the efficiency savings achievable through virtualization, there is also evidence that growth in demand for cloud computing and other outsourced solutions is outstripping improvements in server utilization. A report published earlier this month by Frost & Sullivan suggests there was more than 108 million sq ft of data centre space at the end of last year and that the total by the end of 2010 could be as high as 177 million sq ft.

Another reason why virtualization on its own has not prevented a rise in data centre energy use is that enabling companies to move workloads between different sets of servers creates demand for power and cooling at the new location as well as the previous data centre.

Adjusting these environmental factors in real time as workloads are moved around is beyond the scope of most data centers. As a result there is an increasing realization that IT and building management systems will have to work together if this trend is not to scupper future prospects of reducing data centre energy demand and a number of projects have been established to address this issue.

One of the most interesting was undertaken at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where a team of engineers fed temperature readings from sensors that are built into most modern servers directly into the data centre building controls, allowing the air conditioning system to keep the facility at just the right temperature to cool the servers.

In the meantime, the Carbon Trust hopes that a new building standard for data centers service could help cut energy in this sector use by half. Testing and approvals organization BRE Global says it has made 'far-reaching' revisions to the BREEAM method for assessing the environmental performance of buildings to tailor it to data centers.

The BREEAM Data Centres 2010 scheme has been developed in conjunction with a number of organizations including Digital Realty Trust, HSBC, Hewlett Packard and EDF Energy. The new standard uses data centre infrastructure efficiency and power usage effectiveness metrics to gauge the energy efficiency of each facility.

There are other steps companies can take to minimize energy usage. Forrester's 'State of Green IT Adoption Q2 2010' report states that companies could improve the efficiency and therefore reduce the energy demands of their data centers by eliminating redundant applications. It found that fewer than one in four companies planned to eliminate redundant applications in 2010.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.