It may come as no surprise that Data Centers are energy hogs.  According to a recent report by Jonathan G. Koomey, a consulting professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at
Stanford University, “Electricity used in global data centers likely accounted for between 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent of total electricity use, worldwide. For the U.S. that number was between 1.7 percent and 2.2 percent.”  And data center energy use is not slowing down.  In a separate study by DatacenterDynamics, it is estimated that the world's data centers will consume 19% more energy in the next 12 months than they did in the previous 12.  These are big numbers, and moving the dial on making data centers more energy efficient is critical.  Luckily technology professionals are putting best practices in place to lower the energy burn of their data centers.

In conversations recently with my colleague Kevin Gulley from FuelDog (he is an inbound and social media marketing expert specializing in work with technology companies), we discussed some of the things he has been hearing about when it comes to lowering energy consumption in data centers.  The first thing he mentioned was lowering energy burn related to cooling.  "In a 16,000 square foot legacy data center you see a lot of inefficiency from a cooling perspective and there is almost always room for substantial improvements.  Instead of throwing more energy and air conditioning units at the problem, the first step most companies take is to contract with a third-party firm to put together a computational fluid dynamics model so they can see where airflow is ineffective, constricted or redundant, and find areas of improvement."

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a software tool that allows businesses to simulate their data center, load it with equipment, mock-up the layout down to the types of air conditioners and floor tiles, turn everything on and see what happens.  When the air is not circulating in a data center in the most efficient manner, you wind up with hot spot that effect performance.  Over the years, businesses have simply thrown additional CRAC (computer room air conditioning) units at the problem to beat it into submission.  This is generally very expensive, energy intensive and usually not necessary.  The CFD software simulates air flow to and from servers, to CRAC units, to hot and cold aisles, under the floor, through blanking panels, etc., all in order to see how air recirculates and where hot and cool spots are. In essence, you find problem areas that are keeping the air from circulating properly before executing on a solution.  Once you have a model you can mock up if/then scenarios to determine the most efficient and cost effective solution.

"Going through the CFD process allows companies to identify several problems that may have thought were there, but with the actual data they are able to hone in on them and address them with low-cost solutions.  For example, you may find holes in the floor under server cabinets for cable cut-outs, and hot air is getting sucked right into them and contaminating our cool aisles making the air conditioners work much harder than necessary.  Simple solutions like buying some Cut-out Cubes from Sub-Zero engineering, which are essentially pillows that fill up holes in the floor can make the problem go away."  Some other additional areas of low-cost improvements that he has heard about include:

*  Putting in blanking panels (literally blank pieces of metal) to cover holes in server racks that were allowing unwanted air flow
*  Eliminating legacy and unneccesary cabling under the raised floor that restricts air flow
*  Opening smoke barriers that had been installed years ago and were no longer necessary, but were in the closed position

All of these solutions allowed for vastly improved air circulation, and more importantly, made sure that the cold air was getting to the right places in the data center.  These simple solutions can make a HUGE difference.  As a result of the CFD modeling and these improvements, businesses can often to shut down multiple CRAC units inside their data centers and still maintain optimal temperatures.  This effort can lead to dramatic savings.  It goes to show, when you have a problem, first gather the data and plan properly.  The solutions may be easier - and the benefits greater - than you initially thought. 


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