Carbon taxes, energy costs and public awareness are driving most companies, including housing providers, to run more sustainable operations and increase energy efficiency.
One of the biggest energy guzzlers in any large organisation is its data management operations. In previous editions of Housing Technology, my colleagues have discussed the problems and costs associated with storing and managing large quantities of data. I now want to look at the actual data centre itself and highlight how going a little green can save you a lot of money.
Increasing power costs
The running costs of a data centre are extensively related to power – first there’s the actual operation of the servers themselves, but then there are the electricity costs for heating, cooling and lighting, and for providing an acceptable working environment for the people managing it.
The relative cost of electricity has increased significantly over time and continues to do so. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the cost of power relative to the overall running costs in first-generation data storage facilities could be as little as 10 per cent. Despite improvements in technology and operational costs, the very significant, continuously-rising cost of fossil fuels – and its subsequent effect on electricity costs – means that before long the cost of power relative to the cost of running a data centre could be as high as 50 per cent. Environmental taxation is also now affecting costs.
The efficiency of a data centre is determined by its PUE (see box). There are three major ways in which you can improve this: through the design of the data centre; by using the latest equipment; and by moving to a virtualised environment.
1. Data centre design
The layout of a data centre directly affects power usage. Essentially, the more efficiently you can cool the hot air created by the servers, the less power you will consume. The latest data centres use ‘cold aisle containment’ to prevent the hot and cold air flows from mixing. Sealed-off pods contain alternating hot and cold aisles in which the racks are set up in ranks placed back-to-back; the hot air from the servers is expelled at the back and cold air sucked in at the front.
Free-air cooling systems with backup inbuilt chillers can create even further efficiencies. Fans on the outside wall drive the outside air through in vast quantities without having to cool it, saving huge amounts of power. In the UK, the ambient air makes it possible to use this method for more than 300 days a year.
In terms of equipment, examples of the type of changes that can be made to improve power efficiency include:
- Installing free air cooling CRAC (computer room air conditioning) units and cold aisle containment modules;
- Upgrading to more efficient servers and optimising utilisation to reduce power wastage;
- Reducing the number of cabinets used and optimising space within the cabinet;
- Installing energy-efficient UPS systems;
- Upgrading networks to reduce the number of switches and routers.
You can make your computing practices more efficient by converting from physical servers to a virtual environment, which makes much fuller use of resources. Virtualisation means you’re running several virtual servers on a significantly-reduced number of physical servers. Typically, 10 physical servers can be reduced to one physical server running 10 virtual machines.
Is outsourcing better?
Some of the efficiencies I’ve described can of course be achieved in-house. However, I would argue that by co-locating your servers in a third-party data centre or by using a managed service provider’s virtual hosting services, you not only share in the economies of scale but also benefit from the expertise of their experience.
In immediate practical terms, you remove from your budget the capital costs and ongoing operational expenditure for maintenance and periodic replacement of major items of equipment.
In addition, because they’re dedicated to this, third-party data centre owners will be constantly upgrading and maintaining the equipment and environment, something which simply is not feasible for housing providers to do for themselves.
Finally, the power efficiencies that they offer will be matched by high levels of security, modern fire detection and fire suppressant capabilities, and resilient business continuity and disaster recovery features.
So simply by outsourcing your data management, and indeed other back-office IT operations, you can increase energy-efficiency and reap the associated financial rewards with minimal effort on your part.
Mike Heaps is the property director at InTechnology.