7 Steps to Improve Data Center Energy Efficiency

It’s often said we’re now living in a data-driven economy, but making that data accessible still requires old-school electrical power.

Keeping the servers humming can be costly, and when fossil fuels provide the power, it also adds to the carbon emissions that accelerate climate change. Using energy as efficiently as possible should be a top priority for every data center.

Data centers are some of the biggest energy consumers in the world. The data center industry uses around 196 to 400 terawatt-hours annually, which amounts to as much as 2% of all global electricity use. With the demand for data only increasing, these numbers are projected to keep expanding in the years ahead.

What’s really unfortunate is that a lot of energy is being used in unnecessary and suboptimal ways. When data center energy usage is measured according to the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) formula, the average score is nearly 1.6.

According to this formula, a score of 1.0 represents perfectly optimized energy usage, while a 2.0 means that only half of your power is actually being used by the data servers.

A PUE score of 1.2 to 1.4 is what many data centers aim for as a reasonable goal, but lower scores are possible and can be achieved by facilities that prioritize energy efficiency. Between the Net Zero climate change goals and the state of the global economy, minimizing energy waste has never been more important.

Why is data center energy efficiency important?

Data centers will play a big role in determining how well the world can meet its climate goals in the decades ahead. Analysts are predicting data center energy usage will quadruple by the year 2030, and alongside data transmission networks, data centers are already responsible for 1% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

To meet Net Zero goals by 2030, emissions will need to be cut by half. By following the best practices for energy efficiency, data centers can stay within the regulations and standards that will make these goals attainable.

Energy-efficient data centers aren’t just good for the planet; they also benefit their owners and operators. 

Optimizing energy use eliminates wasteful spending, preserves asset durability, and reduces overall costs, making serving up big data more sustainable and profitable.

How to measure data center efficiency?

Energy efficiency depends on many factors, but there is a straightforward way to calculate the energy efficiency of a given system. 

Measuring your energy efficiency regularly is important because it provides an objective picture of how well you’re managing to optimize your operations, clearly showing you when your efforts are working and when they need to be revised or updated.

The Energy Efficiency Formula: Measure the productive output of the system and divide it by the amount of energy going into it, as measured in watts or joules. The result is your energy efficiency ratio.

When calculating the energy efficiency of a data center, it’s important to take stock of all the components required to make the facility functional. While the primary energy consumers are the data servers themselves, the CPUs and the storage media are different pieces of hardware that can be evaluated and optimized separately.

You also have to account for the data network elements and the infrastructure required to support a server farm: cooling systems, lighting, backup power, and everything else that uses energy. 

7 steps to improve data center efficiency

With so many interconnected and indispensable components, a data center can be a daunting subject for an energy optimization project. 

The good news is there are proven actions you can take to realize significant efficiency improvements. We’ve broken it down into a seven-step process…

1. Analyze the current situation

Before you can initiate any real improvements, you have to step back and take in the overall picture of your data center and the infrastructure that supports it. 

Take a realistic view of what’s working, what needs improving, and what problems you currently face. Tracking your carbon footprint is a great place to start.

Analysis can be done while determining new standards for your company—such as climate change goals. This can help clarify which metrics you need to prioritize.

2. Commit to new targets

Once you have gathered the information needed to evaluate your current setup, you can start setting goals for the future and planning out how you intend to meet them. 

Laying out a clear path forward will help your company stay focused on energy efficiency as a priority and keep you committed to reaching your ultimate energy efficiency targets.

3. Switch traditional to renewable

With more than $1.7 trillion invested in clean and renewable energy projects, businesses have more choices than ever when finding alternatives to fossil fuel energy. 

What used to be a unique selling point for companies with environmentally-conscious branding is now the norm across all industries. Switching to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, or geothermal is an excellent way to become more energy efficient.

4. Implement data collection

Data centers are data users, too. Improving your data collection efforts will provide greater visibility into the whole picture of your facility operations. It will help you determine if your conclusions about what is and isn’t working are correct.

Every optimization effort should be monitored and managed. 

To do this, you’ll need to find a way to capture the required data and determine your goals and KPIs. Remote monitoring solutions like Galooli can be an effective way to record and track this information in real-time.

5. Fix issues as they arise – or before

Another benefit of remote monitoring tools is that they send live alerts to inform facility managers immediately when a problem occurs. In some cases, remotely-monitored data can provide warning of issues that have not yet developed into full-blown issues.

When data center components fail, backup components may have to shift into less-efficient modes of operation to compensate for them. Mitigating the loss or damages resulting from  component failure will likely add further energy costs. The earlier an issue can be identified and addressed, the less waste will result.

6. Make use of any “necessary” waste

Energy waste is sometimes unavoidable, but it often produces useful byproducts, such as waste heat. No matter how small the amount, waste heat can be harnessed and used to warm nearby facilities. This approach may not directly improve the energy efficiency of your plant, but by turning that waste heat toward other uses, it offsets your carbon footprint.

The success of efforts to capture waste heat will depend on several factors, including logistics and demand. 

7. Make sure the layout is correct

Every data center operator knows the importance of keeping the servers cool, but many data centers err on the side of keeping things colder than is strictly necessary. Every single degree of unnecessary cooling adds up to a lot of wasted energy over time.

Beyond that, the actual physical layout of the data center can greatly impact energy efficiency. A “hot/cold” aisle setup, in which servers are oriented front-to-front and back-to-back, can reduce fan energy usage by as much as 25%. It’s also a good idea to check the underfloor plenum to ensure that air can flow unobstructed. 

Put energy efficiency within reach

There’s a lot involved in running a data center effectively, and the cost of errors and unresolved issues can damage your bottom line and the planet’s health.

Considering the stakes, there’s no better time to commit to making real changes and start working on the seven steps listed above.

Achieving your energy efficiency goals is even easier when you have real-time access to critical performance data, and the means to address issues remotely at the earliest possible moment. Galooli’s remote monitoring and management solution gives you the insight and control you need to optimize the systems that power your data centers.


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