Green data centers an illusion?

For a few years there are predominantly negative messages on the ecological footprint of data centers. The rapidly increasing data use often causes the data centers in the media to be labelled as ‘polluting’. This negativity amazes me, as data centers are leading in the field of sustainable and energy-efficient measures.

What causes the public opinion to focus on the energy consumption of data centers and is this focus justified?


From internal to external management

One of the main reasons that data centers have earned a prominent place in the spotlights nowadays, is the shift from internal to external management that has occurred over the last few years. This has concentrated the energy use of the equipment to the data centers, which has made it more visible. However, not all of it is ‘new’ energy consumption, even if it seems to be to the outside world.

Another consequence of the shift from internal to external management, is that the IT manager has become more aware of the power consumption. With internally placed equipment, the power costs have rarely come from the IT budget, which means the IT manager did not have a clear idea of the costs and power consumption. This did not provide a motivation for the IT department to choose energy efficient equipment, which is often a little more expensive. Data centers, on the other hand, take all kinds of energy saving measures. Those measures are not only good for the environment, but can provide a data center with a commercial advantage compared to less energy efficient competitors; the service can be provided with lower costs after all.


Green solutions

Energy efficient measures in data centers can have a great impact, especially because they house the IT equipment of several organisations. There are a number of possibilities that can make a data center green. A few examples of measures that data centers can take to save energy are:

  • Cooling servers with outside air: a simple way to reduce the power consumption, which is often not possible for local IT equipment due to the construction of the building. Big data centers can accommodate this measure.
  • Closed Cold Corridors: these are efficient with cooled air. You can compare it to placing a roof over the cold parts in a room. The result is that less of the cool air will escape, so the process of cooling the equipment becomes more efficient.
  • Reusing residual heat: because of the large number of servers that produce heat, the other spaces in the building can be heated with the residual heat.
  • Generators on natural gas: every data center has an emergency plan for possible power outages. There is a possibility to use natural gases in these generators. Natural gas is biologically degradable and does not contain sulphur and aromatics.
  • Ultrasonic humidification: data centers often use steam humidification to prevent static electricity (which can cause a lot of damage). Ultrasonic humidification, however, is a much more economical solution: it saves up to 95 percent!

Yes, a data center uses a lot of power, but this should be compared to their leading position in energy efficient measures. Despite the limited impact of some of the measures, the size of a data center often justifies the implementation, which cannot be said for smaller server rooms. So are green data centers an illusion? I think not!

This post was written by Alex Bik, BIT Internet Technology.