3 essentials for energy-efficient data centers

When it comes to data centers and energy efficiency, companies prefer to take their own unique approach. Google has its custom servers and built-in batteries, Facebook has opted for an evaporative cooling and proprietary uninterruptible power supply and Yahoo has selected an outdoor air-cooled "chicken coop" design.

Large data center operators have an inherent advantage when implementing energy-efficient strategies as they can shift operations to another facility in the event of a failure or changing circumstances, according to Michael Fluegeman, a principal and engineer with PlanNet Consulting. PlanNet is a Brea, Calif.-based IT consulting firm focused on providing support for critical infrastructure, including data centers.

"Large centers can operate at a higher risk of failure with the offset, but smaller data centers can't do that as easily," said Fluegeman, who specializes in facilities, power and cooling.

"It's following the sun or the moon, because they can very easily shift their traffic to different locations depending on whether it's night or day in a particular location," he said. "Especially if you're using outside air and free cooling or air-side economy as it's called, this is a concept that's used to some degree by larger companies with data centers worldwide, where they shift traffic."

So how can data centers lacking the resources of their larger counterparts achieve increased energy efficiency while reducing costs?

According to Fluegeman, there are three essentials that smaller data centers should follow.

Essential #1: Start with the IT architecture: Fluegeman suggests starting with how you structure all the different components for a network or data center, as there are ways to create a design that will work more efficiently with certain tasks such as file duplication.

"There are ways to architect your system to deal with duplication and keep things lean and mean and trim with good housekeeping,” he said. “This allows data centers to be smaller and greener by using as little power as possible."

As an example, Fluegeman referred to how many have moved away from Microsoft Outlook email in preference of cloud-based email such as Gmail. With Outlook, the same file can get stored hundreds of times, taking up valuable server space. Email in the cloud saves and stores a file only once.

Tiered storage is another way to lower energy usage.

Using this method, older data is stored in a way that takes up very little energy by archiving them on a storage device that goes to sleep or can be pulled up as needed.

Photo of Facebook's data center in Prineville, Ore. provided by Tom Raftery via Wikimedia Commons

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