Who's Afraid of CO2?

— October 23, 2007

The concept of green computing - an effort to decrease data center energy usage - is gaining momentum. New organizations such as The Green Grid have been formed to address the issue, newsletters have been launched, conferences have been organized and I.T. vendors are issuing press releases at a rapid clip. In at least one instance a utility company, California's PG&E, has publicly announced its commitment to green computing.
Research by IDC has revealed that over the next five years the expense of powering and cooling the worldwide installed base of servers is projected to grow fourfold, compared with the growth rate for new server spending. Indeed, in the near future the lifespan cost of powering a server will exceed its purchase price.
 
A separate study using IDC data conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that aggregate electricity use for servers doubled over the period of 2000 to 2005. At the same time, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, the average retail price of electricity to the commercial sector has increased from 7.6 cents per kWh in 1996 to 8.7 cents per kWh in 2005, making power and cooling costs a top priority for data center owners and operators.
 
And what about the climate change consequences of all this energy usage? Energy Insights estimates that, in 2005, electricity consumption from servers in the United States produced approximately 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. This is 3 percent of the total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from the commercial sector in the United States and is roughly equivalent to the total carbon dioxide emissions from all power generators in Colorado.
 
There are ample opportunities for reducing data center energy usage. These include:
- replacing older servers with newer, moreenergy-efficient servers;
- employing datacenter virtualization to consolidate workloads and increase server utilization;
using intelligent/dynamic data center energy management to idle or shut down servers according to workload and energy market conditions;
deploying advanced cooling technologies such as closely coupled cooling and thermal storage to decrease energy usage;
- using all-DC power in datacenters to avoid AC/DC power losses;
- deploying distributed energy resources such as distributed generation and energy storage in data centers.

However, one of the critical success factors in achieving green computing goals is the active participation of the utility industry. As previously mentioned, PG&E stands out as the only U.S. utility to actively develop and promote green computing programs and was also the only utility to participate in IBM's recent Big Green program announcement.

We believe that more utilities should consider partnering with I.T. vendors to develop energy efficiency, demand response and other programs aimed at reducing data center energy usage. Additionally, by converting or upgrading their internal datacenters, utilities can reduce their own energy costs and improve their image with customers, regulators and shareholders.

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