Data Centers and Energy Consumption

It’s no secret to anyone that data storage has exploded in the last decade. Individuals are now able to store and share gigabytes of photos of family vacations, at no cost. Gmail, Hotmail and others offer consumers free access and storage to immense amounts of data. This was virtually inconceivable 10 years ago when monthly Web storage averaged $1,250 per gigabyte per month. The cost has fallen to 15 cents today. Hard drive storage in 2000 cost $44.56 per GB. Ten years later, it has fallen to a mere 7 cents (Wired magazine, March 2010).

Businesses are migrating toward having their proprietary data and applications stored externally at data centers, too. It’s less expensive to have a data center host the data than to maintain it internally and it frees a company to focus on its core competency. Data storage experts manage the data while the company focuses on manufacturing or food processing or whatever they produce.

Now, more than ever before, data is stored and accessible from the ubiquitous and persistent “cloud.” You can’t see it, but you take comfort in knowing it’s there -“ and accessible.

And as we move from storing data on internal hard drives and servers to having a third party host data, data centers become more and more critical. Whether you think you are “cloud computing” or accessing a mission-critical application through Software as a Service (SaaS), the one thing you have in common is that your data is stored and accessed from a data center.

Imagine a building as big as a football field -“ or bigger -“ filled with servers, all maintained at an optimum temperature and humidity, with a prescribed amount of energy consumption. The highly secure installations often employ sophisticated technology such as retinal scanners to ensure only authorized personnel have access. The energy costs at these state-of-the-art data centers can be 100-times higher than typical buildings. And as data centers are an extremely competitive industry with slim margins, saving energy costs are not only a laudable environmental goal, but a competitive differentiator that may determine whether you are successful or not. Inefficiencies in energy conservation can hurt the bottom line, erode competitiveness, and reduce uptime.

Fortunately, HVAC systems have grown more sophisticated as the need for monitoring and controlling energy consumption in data centers has increased exponentially.

From a controls perspective, having full integration, monitoring, and control of systems is critical. Besides providing real time information and alarming of potentially hazardous conditions, continuous monitoring can provide details of hidden deficiencies, faults, or impending failures through predictive maintenance.

With continuous 24-hour operations required, data center staff can leverage intelligent monitoring to determine energy quality/usage, load balancing and even departmental/customer billing services. With proper systems, data centers can better anticipate costs, negotiate contracts, assure system performance and integrity, as well as accurately charge for services.

Accomplishing an efficient approach leads to HVAC systems quite different than standard building systems. Utilizing seasonal cold outside air is the most energy efficient method of cooling. Introducing outside air with an economizer configuration at the air-handling unit affords the highest energy savings requiring no operation of the mechanical cooling system.

Mechanical cooling equipment using chilled water is favored because of the greatest ability for temperature modulation versus the stepped approach necessary in direct expansion on-off control. Water-cooled compressors are nearly twice as efficient as air-cooled condensers. Cooling towers are a good method for condenser heat rejection, but consideration should also be given to vertical or horizontal geothermal loops, as they may result in lower maintenance costs.

As our lives have become more dependent on the Internet and computing power, we have also become more dependent on the efficient management of our data in data centers. We have demanding expectations: 24/7 access with uptime well beyond the 99.999 percentile.

As we grow more concerned about balancing our need for data access with energy usage and proper stewardship of natural resources, you can rest assured that the engineering that makes it possible is constantly being refined and improved.

Uninterrupted access to data from anywhere, at any time, with as little an impact on the environment as possible is the goal, and properly designed and managed data centers make it a reasonable expectation.
Think about that the next time you upload a photo to your Facebook page while sitting in a Starbucks, blog about the high school marching band’s competition from an arena or check your remote building’s energy consumption.

We may not be flying our helicopters to work as we once thought we would, but when you consider the cloud and all of the data available to us; it truly is a wonderful world.

Tony Kaczmarek is president of Kors Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.