Finding the energy

October 5, 2010

The recession, coupled with non-appearance of the predicted ‘barbecue summer’, gave the national grid a welcome break. Lighter air-con requirements, in offices and especially data and communication centres, softened the summertime peak, which typically puts added strain on our mains supply. However, while UK trade and industry may be drawing less power, average consumption per IT server has increased more than 20 percent over the past few years and continues to its upward trend.

Up on the roof

In Arizona, i/o Data Centers has installed thousands of solar panels on the 11-acre roof of its new Phoenix ONE data centre, eventually generating up to 4.5 megawatts of the facility’s 80 megawatts requirement. With Silicon Valley enjoying a significantly more sunshine and government investment than our own M4 corridor, solar power is unlikely to be near-term solution for energy efficiency gains in UK data centres. This is not to say that solar power should be written off. On the contrary, the price of solar technology continues to fall year on year. So, with continued investment to improve the effectiveness of this increasingly vital technology, the UK’s solar powered data centre industry could still prosper in the future.

To demonstrate the point, it was reported recently that UK based is building a 2,600 square foot facility, using a combination of solar power and advanced server energy management, to help meet its power consumption targets. Projects like this prove that a multi faceted approach can help smaller data centres reduce their energy consumption and offer an important, if costly, CSR USP.

For those unable or unwilling to be the innovators, quicker wins on these shores currently lie in other well documented areas such as innovative server design, power supply efficiencies, and optimised cooling systems.

Energy efficiency solutions

IT systems and supporting infrastructure offer many opportunities to optimise installations for increased energy efficiency and to reduce costs and emissions, for example:

  • Server innovation
  • Virtualization
  • High efficiency power supplies
  • Load management

What the eye doesn’t see?

Scaling down from the expanse of solar panels on a data centre roof to minute particles on a server room floor, there is growing regard among IT facility owners and operators for what could literally be a microscopic spanner in the works.

Dust and contamination, both on and in IT equipment, will cause heat retention and unwanted downtime if not maintained, and power requirements will increase to keep the equipment cooler, thus reducing energy efficiency. Further, particle and contamination build-up will cause failures in electronic circuits within servers and hardware, causing slower performance and potential failure an unthinkable outcome for critical IT systems.

To use a recent example, a major UK telecoms company commissioned a professional cleaning provider for a newly acquired data centre. A specialist deep clean of the whole facility resulted in increased power utilisation efficiency (PUE) of almost 1.3% – a significant contribution given the total power consumption of a facility larger than a football stadium.

While it may initially go unnoticed, uncontrolled contamination has serious potential to bring down systems and to invalidate hardware warranties. Replacing equipment is a huge cost to OEMs and they are increasingly inserting clauses stating that hardware must be maintained to ISO Standards.

The subject of reducing energy consumption is always going to be a ‘hot’ topic and one which the numerous possibilities make it impossible to cover every avenue in just one article. However, it is clear that the answer will not come from one source, but rather a plethora of technologies all doing their bit.


“I agree, I think we need to look at greener solutions and more use of materials like 16mm polycarbonate panels for example….”