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Carbon footprint of data centers

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Comment: needs hard data, third-person perspective


Data centers, where server farms are hosted, use large amounts of energy, and this is increasing as use of the internet increases, especially the popularity of technically sophisticated websites that use more power.[1] Servers lose a huge amount of energy[2]please expand due to bad layout/inefficient design.

Background[edit]

The energy is needed for:

  • Running the servers, and especially the processors.
  • Ventilation and cooling - the large energy use to run the processors means a large output of heat, which must be kept down to keep the servers functioning.

Server farms or data centers use large amounts of energy due primarily to three main factors:

  1. Continuous increase in power consumption of servers, storage area networks and networking equipment.
  2. Lack of know-how to reduce the amount of energy spent at the data center for every kW delivered to the IT equipment (power usage effectiveness).
  3. The nonchalant attitude of data center operators towards energy reduction.

Current servers and networking equipment (as at mid-2008) consume on average 3 times more power than 5 years ago due to the need for increased speeds/feeds and bundling extra services on a single box that used to be housed in multiple boxes. The manufacturer emphasizes being first to market by simply adding another power-hungry module to the appliance/device thus, forcing them after a while to install larger power supplies. Storage manufacturers even do more harm by creating boxes with continuously spinning hard drives thus consuming exorbitant amounts of power. Although SAN manufacturers are adding the ability to spin down hard drives when not in use, they have not made corresponding changes to the power needs of their appliances. This forces data centers to provide and consumers to buy the "max power needed" for the equipment as opposed to the lower "power used" wasting on average 50% of the energy delivered to this equipment.

Reduce the footprint[edit]

The carbon footprint can be reduced by:

  • Using less energy:
    • Better layout.please expand
    • Use more energy-efficient servers. It has been claimed[verification needed] that use of clusters of the XO (OLPC's Children's Machine) would be more energy efficient as servers than conventional machines - which is logical as they are designed for extremely low power use. This may not be a realistic solution, but the design ideas of the XO could be used to create a more energy efficient and cost-effective server.
    • Locate the server farms in a cold climate.[3]
  • Using better energy:
    • Use renewable energy. The concept of using renewable energy such as hydroelectric, solar and wind turbines to replace other fossil fuel burning sources of electricity is gaining in popularity but at barely 10% of the power generated, it still has a long way to go. Until these renewable energy sources catch up with demand, more and more fossil fuel fired plants will go on-line. The bottom line is that we need to aggressively conserve the energy used for our technology (which accounts for approximately 2% of our nation’s total energy consumption) for the foreseeable future to reduce the carbon footprint of our ever increasing demand for technology.
    • Use carbon offsets - this is more controversial, and depends on how effective the offsets actually are. Some hosts (including Appropedia's host, Dreamhost) use carbon offsets[verification needed] (or do they use green energy?) to remain carbon neutral.

Need for a changed attitude[edit]

Data center builders and operators seem to be stuck on an antiquated “standard practice” for building and operating data center facilities. They design and build the facility and its power and cooling services without assessing the changing business or IT needs or the benefits of lowering their energy footprint. Currently, there are a plethora of solutions for designing data centers that could save their operators at least 30% on their energy bills. For moderately large facilities, this could translate into tens of thousands of dollars per month in savings. In addition, with 70.5% of the nation’s power coming from fossil fuel fired power plants, every kw saved has a direct impact on our environment. At one facility I visited, the operator claimed hot aisle/cold aisle architecture, but when I examined the aisles with thermal imaging equipment, both sides of the aisle turned out to be hot with the only cool place collecting up in the ceiling. When I advised the operators, I was asked to go out for a drink. While this example doesn't depict everyone, similar to the security world, many operators choose to ignore issues rather than to admit to problems or ask for help.

At one of the hosting conferences, I asked a co-location facility operator about their facility’s energy footprint and his response was "I don't care. I can buy whatever power I need to cool the place since I can pass the cost on to the clients". I think for us, as consumers, the more we start asking questions about energy efficiency at data centers, the more we will force them to consider their carbon/energy footprint and the value that passes on to us as consumers. With the help of efficiency standard calculations such as PUE and DCiE, we can normalize the data and stop the deception that is currently out there (e.g., “we are a green data center because we bought a green firewall”).

Notes[edit]

  1. One example is that some of the community on Appropedia, including the tech people, want to install Semantic MediaWiki - this will be a great tool, but will increase the amount of work done by the servers.
  2. The discussion which prompted this page said "losing on average 100-200 kW/hr" - however there is no such thing as kW/hr... maybe it meant kWh. See Power and energy basics. Plus this sentence does not address size or context.
  3. Iceland is being promoted as a location for server farms for this reason. Air in Iceland is fairly humid, so all air must be processed before use in server, farms, as humidity will harm machines in the long run. But it takes less energy to de-humidify air than it does to cool it. There is evidence[verification needed] that servers are tolerant of humidity ranges well outside ASHRAE standards, so this is less of a problem than previously thought (e.g. note use of outside air cooling in Quincy, Washington, more than 75% of the year.) Renewable energy is another of Iceland's advantages, but the reality is mixed - this "renewable energy" includes energy from a new, large hydroelectric dam,[verification needed] meaning a major environmental impact, and significant carbon footprint.



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