Centres of excellence

Spiralling energy costs are focussing the attention of organisations on every aspect of their facilities management function. And nowhere is this more important than in the new generation of data centres, says George Bailey.

Modus Group, ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

Spiralling energy costs are focussing the attention of organisations on every aspect of their facilities management function. And nowhere is this more important than in the new generation of data centres, says George Bailey.

Even before the current energy crisis, according to a recent survey by Energy Watch, electricity costs in the UK had increased by around 60% since 2003. This has clearly been felt across the whole range of building functions of course, but the now ubiquitous datacentre has arguably been the most hard hit.

Currently, in the United Kingdom, around £0.50 (AED 3.62) is spent on energy demanded by data centres for every £1.00 (AED 7.24) spent on hardware - an astonishing proportion and something that is expected to increase by 54% over the next four years.

Energy consumption in the UAE is growing at an average rate of around 10% each year.

These cost increases are driving managers to revisit the way datacentres are managed, closely linked with the ethical desire to manage the centres in a more environmentally friendly way. As usual, the bottom line and the environment are inextricably linked.

"These are UK figures but this is a global issue even if the structures of energy markets can vary enormously across international boundaries," says Toby Benzecry of Modus Group, one of the UK's leading data centre specialists.

"The UAE has its own idiosyncrasies, not least because it is one of the most important producers of oil and gas in the world and will continue to be so for some time. The region also has the advantage in many cases of being able to develop many buildings from scratch using the very latest technology and thinking, compared to many other nations which have a long established and mixed building stock that can present its own challenges in terms of developing a coherent energy use strategy."

Even so, this is an issue that is of great and growing concern because according to recent statistics cited by the organisers of the Middle East Electricity conference, energy consumption in the UAE is growing at an average rate of around 10% each year.

This is more than double the international average and is projected to treble by 2020.

Last year, power consumption rose by 15% in the UAE and the number of electricity consumers in the UAE rose by 19%.

All of these new people must be supplied with power and fuel and that is just one reason why Arab nations are projected to spend over US $120 billion (AED 440 bn) on new power projects between now and 2012.

"Now you can apply your own interpretation to these stats, but the underlying reason is obvious," adds Benzecry.

"The Middle East is quite literally one of the powerhouses of the global economy. Little wonder when you consider the way that resources and people are being drawn into the region. The surge of building work and economic growth in the area is well documented but less so is the way that people are being drawn to the region. And while this is a welcome sign of economic growth, it presents its own problems from an environmental point of view."


Fortunately, the UAE has long sought to present a responsible attitude towards energy use and the environment and for some time, has been an adherent of the Kyoto Protocol, which it ratified in 2005 and was the Asian representative on the executive board in 2006.

"It is this same combination of business and economic reality coupled with environmental concerns that will be the most important feature of the move to more cost-conscious data centre design and management in the future," claims Benzecry.

"And fortunately there are some obvious aspect of data centre design and management to target."

The Middle East is quite literally one of the powerhouses of the global economy.

According to a recent report from semiconductor giant Intel, an estimated 7.5% of the power going into data centres actually does what it's intended to do. That leaves 92.5% to be picked up through efficiency and design changes.

With 40% of carbon impact stemming from IT equipment, something clearly needs to be done. Up to 60% of the energy bill is for cooling and market researcher IDC reckons energy costs for servers will match acquisition costs by 2012.

Add to this the fact that data centres have doubled their energy use in the past five years and it's obvious energy management is vital.

Most data centres were traditionally designed to handle an average 300 to 750 watts a square metre across the total raised-floor area.

However, the high power density of blade servers and new storage technologies require data centres to handle 3000 watts or higher, a square metre in the local area where blade servers are deployed - and this trend is expected to continue.

Research firm Meta Group predicts wattage will double over the next few years and local power requirements will pass 10,000 watts a square metre between 2008 and 2010.

The current best advice is to adopt best practices in power and cooling to deliver financial benefits and reduce the squeeze on IT budgets. But much of this will depend on when the datacentre was designed.

Industry sources suggest 87% of data centres were built before 2001. The more recent the development, the easier it will be to contain costs.

"The critical step is analysing the current operation versus the design capacity of the data centre," says Benzecry.

"Care should be taken in determining the operational temperature spread between the supply and return temperatures for the heat transfer fluids. These temperatures should be compared to the design temperature spread. By conducting an analysis, managers can determine how many watts a square metre their datacentre can handle compared to how many watts a square metre it will have to handle once high-power-density technologies are added."


Many low-cost initiatives can be undertaken now to produce energy savings.

IBM recently recommended turning off CRAC (computer room air conditioning) units where no IT equipment load requires cooling.

In the UK, this costs under £500 (AED 3,600) to implement, has annual energy savings of 30kW representing £13,000 (AED 94,200) and an immediate return on investment (ROI).

Datacentres have doubled their energy use in the past five years and it's obvious energy management is vital.

For under £500 (AED 3,600), the company recommends adjusting the indoor temperature and relative humidity control, and controlling the CRAC function on supply air temperature.

This has about a year's ROI and offers annual energy savings of 5kW representing £2,400 (AED 17,300).

For under £2,500 (AED 18,100), increasing the CRAC air discharge temperature to mirror CIBSE/ASHRAE recommendations produces annual energy savings of 13kW representing £5,750 (AED 41,600) with less than a year's ROI.

It makes sense financially, operationally and environmentally to operate a green data centre. But what does this mean?

For the typical 2,500m2 data centre that spends £1.3 million (AED 9.4m) on power annually, energy costs can be cut in half.

That equals the reduction of emissions from taking 850 cars off the road.

Energy is expensive. Managing it need not be.
 

Benzecry recommends that there are three key initiatives managers can adopt to become more energy efficient depending on their individual requirements:
 
  •  Adopt best practice in power and cooling to deliver financial benefits and reduce the squeeze on IT budgets.
This involves reducing operational costs from energy use in the physical infrastructure; establishing an energy efficiency metric compared to peers in the industry and for year-to-year improvement benchmarks in own operations; and providing savings to fuel business growth and help reduce the budget squeeze.
 
  • Take advantage of innovative technologies in power and cooling to improve operations. This involves more computing performance per kilowatt; shifting the energy-to-cool/energy-to-operate ratio; and extending the life of IT equipment.
 
  • Consider ways to reduce environmental impact. This involves meaningful energy conservation; improved public image and making a positive contribution to the green movement (which creates a good place to work).

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