Data Centers & the Importance of Energy Efficiency in Co-location, Cloud and Hosted IT Environments

An ever-expanding and changing digital society has not only spurred the growth and proliferation of data centers touching every facet of daily life, but has also caused the evolution of the data center itself. Consider these predictions for the year 2016:

  • Annual data traffic will exceed 60,000 petabytes, according to ABI Research
  • The number of devices connected to the Internet will be more than three times the global population, according to Cisco
  • More than a quarter of all data center capacity will be owned by service providers, according to IDC

Driving the changing landscape of the data center industry is digitization that has created a “customer 2.0” who wants to be connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who demands more, higher quality data and connectivity  and demands that Internet applications be provided as a service.

To meet this demand, a new kind of data center has emerged, changing the way data centers do business:  data center cloud, co-location, and multi-tenant hosting providers.

A new breed of data center

What is this new breed of data center? In short, co-location providers (wholesale and multi-tenant) deliver resilient facility infrastructure and provide other data center-related services for its customers, allowing companies to own and most often manage their own equipment while taking advantage of not owning the property and facility. Cloud, Managed Services and hosting providers, on the other hand, can provide services at all three layers of a cloud: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). And cloud providers can provide services ranging from outsourcing of all infrastructure and applications to a hybrid model that enables organizations to keep their computing resources in-house and leverage cloud computing resources only when needed.

Why energy efficiency?

In any data center, the benefits of an energy-efficient design and operation of infrastructure and systems for both the facility and IT will reduce costs (both CapEx and OpEx), and help organizations adhere to industry energy standards and government regulations – adding a competitive edge for the business. When smart energy management is added into the equation through many strategies such as right-sizing equipment, optimizing the environment, and proper prior planning, all data centers cloud, co-location, and multi-tenant providers can have a recipe for a successful, lucrative, and highly efficient operation and business.

Reasons for data center energy inefficiency

When it comes to data centers, a slew of likely suspects contribute to energy inefficiency, including over-sizing power and cooling systems, poor capacity planning, underutilized IT equipment, colder than needed space temperatures and stranding capacities (power, cooling, space). Managing and optimizing the data center operation, capacity (power, space, cooling) in a complex, fast paced, and changing environment on a day-to-day basis is challenging, particularly when it comes to Cloud, Wholesale, and Multi-Tenant Collocation providers.

Why co-location and cloud, and why now?

Aging data centers cannot support the business requirements of today’s highly digitized companies and ever-changing technologies. Add to that the high upfront costs and long timeframes for new data center builds and the need for scalable, agile solutions, and cloud and co-location facilities make perfect sense for companies that need to expand their computing capabilities in a short timeframe without breaking the bank.

In real estate, the oft-touted adage “location, location, location” is used to describe what buyers look for, first and foremost, in a home. With this new breed of Cloud services and data centers, however, the axiom takes on an entirely new meaning. Because of the technology and the way they are architected, cloud and some co-location facilities can locate themselves anywhere and take advantage of cheaper building costs, lower taxes and a cooler climates to utilize free cooling, while still delivering first class services to their customers. Traditional technologies, systems and/or businesses that need the “location, location, location” philosophy to meet business requirements often don’t have that same kind of flexibility.

Given this new reality, the growth in cloud, managed services hosting and co-location is starting to become the “new normal,” as companies determine how and what can be incorporated into newer technologies and services. The ever-present drive for energy efficiency has become an increasingly important part of the equation for these providers. Energy efficiency improvements in data center facilities result in direct business benefits that impact the bottom line, including OpEx (energy) savings and a lower carbon footprint. This makes the business more productive while also helping the environment.  A win for everyone!

Specific needs of multi-tenant providers and common challenges they face

At a high level, all data centers require the same kind of facility and technology infrastructure − such as power, cooling, servers, storage, and networking − but co-location (wholesale & multi-tenant), cloud services and data centers also require additional infrastructure and technology to ensure they are running and utilized as efficiently as possible at all times. This includes real-time monitoring and control of critical infrastructure, IT equipment, applications, and environmental conditions, integrated tenant billing, and even advanced Computer-Aided Design (CAD) technology and CFD modeling. These capabilities help to improve efficiency and also enable accurate reporting to customers of the facility. Visibility is a key requirement for running an efficient data center while maintaining continuous service and operation.

The primary challenges that multi-tenant data center providers face include capital and operating cost control, capacity optimization, speed to market, and offer differentiation. Energy efficiency is a way to help reduce costs, increase business optimization, abide by legislative regulations and provide a cutting-edge differentiator for businesses that want to outsource their IT infrastructure to a “green” and highly efficient multi-tenant data center facility.

Other challenges include the financial pressure of securing capital and executing a scalable, profitable growth model; cycle time when it comes to speed to market, speed to incorporate technology and business model iterations; and competitive pressure as many large and small players are entering the market.

Tactics and tools for building energy efficient data centers

Power and cooling tips:

  • The ideal power system for cloud and co-location providers allows for scalable bulk power and cooling. For example, scalable uninterruptable power supply (UPS) solutions allow bulk power to increase seamlessly over time, which allows the system to operate at a more efficient rate with more load than a lightly loaded system.  It also allows for capital preservation as you can scale power and cooling when needed instead of building and waiting for occupancy.  A modular/ scalable cooling platform will allow the same benefits.
  • Maintaining proper air flow, white space layout (cold isle/hot isle), and not overcooling the white space (too cold…67-72 deg F) has a dramatic impact on energy performance.  Making sure there is a centralized and/or optimized approach to the environmental parameters of the white space is also critical, ensuring there are no units cooling while there are other units in a re-heat mode.  Poor airflow and/or inadequate space layout is a big contributor to “Hot Spots” which oftentimes act as a cooling “vampire” creating inefficiencies.
  • More than 50 percent air leakage is routinely observed in data centers, which means that the cold air bypasses the IT equipment intakes and flows directly back to the cooling units. This leads to stranded cooling distribution capacity. Separation of hot and cold air streams will optimize the cooling system and provide a more efficient energy utilization of the cooling system.  This may also free up electrical capacity that was being “bogged down” by the cooling plant and HVAC units.
  • A centralized ultrasonic humidification system, which lowers electricity by a tremendous amount over individual humidification in computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units are another great way to decrease energy consumption while also having a more uniform environment.  In addition, this type of centralized system will reduce OpEx (maintenance) costs by not having to replace humidification bottles every year, which can reduce the electrical feeder size required to supply electricity to the CRAC units because a smaller circuit will be able to replace the re-heat and humidification system.

Raising white space temperature, even by a few degrees, can help data centers realize decreased electricity usage as well as reduced costs.

Tips by provider:

  • Cloud, co-location, and multi-tenant providers can take advantage of software for centralized Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) to help manage and monitor all processes and equipment in any data center. Application-specific DCIM actually provides a more comprehensive solution that is customized for cloud and co-location facilities. It provides facilities, IT, and CXOs with detailed, real-time analytics, risk awareness, data center capacity management and operation status to initiate automated actions or recommend manual actions, helping them optimize IT performance, identify and eliminate zombie servers and decrease downtime. Application-specific DCIM for co-location centers also provides insight into usage and availability on the tenant level, to enable capabilities like detailed chargeback for power and integrated tenant billing and support.
  • Data centers with multiple tenants can conduct capacity planning and monitoring to mitigate both financial and operational risk. This allows operators to recognize and recover stranded capacity, driving efficiencies in on-boarding and off-boarding clients, recovering lost revenue, and shortening investment payback periods. Proper capacity planning and monitoring also helps prevent overloading and overselling capacity, ensuring reliability and a positive client experience.
  • Co-location providers can implement scalable power and cooling equipment to avoid over-sizing. This can easily be done by implementing high-voltage distribution through 415/240V AC power distribution. Along with variable-speed drives on pumps and chillers, this will improve power and cooling efficiency at partial load and on cool days.

The future of co-location, multi-tenant, and cloud data centers

It’s clear the move to the cloud and virtualized data centers and the increased demand for co-location and hosted facilities is only going to continue to increase.

One of the most important goals for multi-tenant, co-location, cloud, and hosted facilities is to maximize their space and operational cost-effectively. As such energy efficiency needs to be an integral part of the process starting from the planning and continuing through the entire life cycle of the data center.  It is possible to optimize existing spaces and gain some advantages and certainly planning a new build with energy “wise” strategies can be a big part of a successful data center.

Joe Reele is vice president, Data Center Solutions Architects for Schneider Electric.