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Turning up the heat may save on data center expenses

By Max Burkhalter
April 4, 2011
In a recent InfoWorld report, IT expert Mel Beckman offered data center managers a number of "radical" strategies to reduce their overall operating expenses by cutting power consumption.

According to the report, there are many simple, inexpensive techniques that can help data centers reduce their power consumption. Some of these solutions are often overlooked, because they seem "impractical or too radical," the report said.

Nevertheless, such strategies can help to streamline data center power efficiency, according to Beckman.

One such strategy involves raising the temperature on a data center's thermostat. Many data centers, following what Beckman calls "conventional wisdom," maintain temperatures of approximately 68 degrees Fahrenheit or below, in order to extend the life of important data center equipment and infrastructure.

According to Beckman, however, this practice may no longer make economic sense. Beckman acknlowedged that higher operating temperatures often result in a greater likelihood of failure in server components, especially hard disk drives.

This, however, may not be reason enough to maintain a low data center temperature. "In recent years," Beckman claimed, "IT economics crossed an important threshold - server operating costs now generally exceed acquisition costs."

In other words, it may be cheaper to purchase new IT hardware more often, than it is to consistently maintain a cool temperature inside a data center.

Another method Beckman offered for reducing energy consumption in data centers is turning off unused servers.

This, too, is a relatively straightforward method that has not been widely adopted. Many data center operators value business agility and choose to keep idle servers powered on in order to be ready when they are, eventually, needed.

According to Beckman, it is often possible to find servers that can be powered down. Doing so, one "can achieve the lowest power usage of all - zero - at least for those servers," Beckman said.

A third method Beckman suggests involves utilizing the "free" air cooling that often be harnessed from outside. In many cases, data centers are located in places with naturally cool climates. Outside temperatures can be leveraged in order to the temperature in a data center without expending energy on expensive air cooling systems.

This, according to Beckman, is done by rerouting ducts to bring in air from outside, as well as implementing basic safety measures, such as air filters, fire dampers, temperature sensors and moisture traps, all of which are needed to ensure sensitive equipment is not damaged by exposure to outside elements.

Energy saving measures such as these may become increasingly important as data centers continue to grow. According to a recent AFCOM report, 44.2 percent of data centers occupy more floor space today than they did three years ago.


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