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Greening a data center.


In a hyper-competitive marketplace, businesses today face greater pressures than ever before to control operating costs' both to improve the bottom line and to appease stakeholders. Added to these demands is the necessity for environmental stewardship in the face of growing strains. Gone are the days when businesses could look the other way; not only environmental watchdogs but also customer and the public at large now hold companies responsible to their actions.

Businesses must be vigilant about the environmental impact of their activities and facilities. Consider corporate data centers. Given the importance of information technology to business, they are indispensable. Plus, with increasing regulations that require retention of digital documents, such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, the need for data centers only continues to grow. Yet these facilities also consume significant and escalating amounts of power and energy, and are a significant source of carbon emissions.

According to an August 2007 report to Congress from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), power consumption in U.S. data centers may cost the public and private sector as much as $7.4 billion annually by 2011. The current tab '$4.5 billion' is on par with the amount of electricity consumed by about 5 percent of the total U.S. housing stock. In addition, according to the EPA, corporate and government data centers in metropolitan areas are key contributors to energy generation challenges, and are helping to drive the national power grid toward gridlock.

Increased operational costs and energy shortages are prompting companies to ask their CIOs and senior IT executives for answers. What investments should be made in 'green' IT in 2008? How do we accommodate the need for data centers and storage without contributing further to environmental degradation? How do we avoid the adverse impact of unchecked data center power usage?

Factors to consider

Energy usage starts at the ground floor. According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), studies show that buildings produce 48 percent of dangerous gas emissions contributing to climate change, and that they consume 71% of electricity produced at U.S. power plants.

Which environmental issues and sustainability features should be emphasized or enhanced first? According to industry reports, several factors impact energy consumption at data centers, including PC monitors, servers, and air conditioning systems.

To combat the energy crisis at data centers, there are several steps companies can make to avoid the adverse impact of unchecked data center power usage:

* Calculate your organization'[TM]s current energy cost, monitor legacy products and upgrade to energy-efficient models as appropriate. Through virtualization technology, computers perform more tasks more efficiently with reduced carbon emissions;

* Identify alternative air conditioning and cooling systems and implement real-time monitoring to allow for immediate response and adjustment capabilities by, for example, taking advantage of outside cold air with a glycol system, and using only the necessary power and cooling needed to support the load;

* Promote sufficient and efficient air flow by raising floor heights and installing proper cable management;

* Reduce ongoing operational energy needs and conserve water and energy resources on a day-to-day basis; and

* Establish baseline metrics for energy efficiency and power utilization, working closely with power companies.

Unisys Eagan Data Center

Recently, Unisys Corporation opened an environmentally advanced expansion to its data center in Eagan, Minnesota, which provides IT outsourcing services to Unisys clients as well as supports Unisys corporate operations. Unisys implemented a number of features which embody the energy-saving steps outlined above. Those include sustainability measures designed to dramatically lower the facility[TM]s carbon footprint as well as enhance the local environment and surrounding community. Unisys took the following actions:

Inside the data center:

* Recycled more than 150,000 pounds of building materials in a local facility during renovations;

* Built a 30-inch raised floor to increase air flow around servers and to cooling efficiency on the floor;

* Added an energy-efficient Glycool air conditioning system that improves cooling efficiency by 44% over the levels normally found in data centers; and

* Implemented virtualization technology in the server computers at the data center. Virtualization enables computers to perform more tasks more efficiently. By using virtualization, the Unisys servers at the Eagan center reduce carbon emissions by 67 percent compared to computers dedicated to a single application at a customer site.

Outside the data center:

* Removed buckthorn, a non-native plant species that overwhelms and kills native plant life. This removal also reduces the risk of brush fire, thus enhancing the security of the data center and surrounding community; and

* Partnered with the City of Eagan to convert landscape adjacent to the Eagan facility to natural prairie containing wild grasses and flowers.

The Unisys Eagan data center'[TM]s innovative development plan and sustainability features enhance service delivery for clients while also protecting the local environment and the surrounding community.

Long-Term Considerations

To date, data centers have focused on enhanced service delivery for clients and the protection and security of data. While these are clearly critical, paying attention to data center emissions and power consumption also are necessary considerations in long-term planning.

As the environmental impact of data centers becomes more widely known, responsible resource usage and environmental stewardship will become key factors to consider. Data centers based on best practices in energy efficiency can benefit both clients and the larger community. For example, the 2007 EPA study estimates that adoption of virtualization and other power-efficiency trends by business and government is expected can reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 11 metric tons by 2011.

Companies will push substantial investments in 'green' IT in 2008. Dedicating thought to minimizing the environmental footprint, reducing costs and improving efficiency within data centers is a must. When undertaking a green initiative, such as deploying an energy-efficient data center, it is important that you do so within an overall corporate 'green' strategy for environmental stewardship and sustainability. Having an all-encompassing strategy maximizes the impact of environmental preservation initiatives.

Also, be sure to clearly communicate to stakeholders the benefits as well as the costs and challenges of creating a green data center. While the cost savings may not be apparent at the onset, introducing energy efficiencies will pay off over time for your organization and for the environment.

Victoria Bond is the director of the Salt Lake City Data Center at Unisys.
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Author:Bond, Victoria
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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