Press releases

02 October 2015

Why the energy challenges faced by data centres have never been greater

James Cooper speaks about the demand for data centre services as they become ever more important in today’s era of digital information and recording.


Energy in data centres

The UK data centre market is estimated to consume around 6.4 GW of power annually – roughly enough energy to power six million homes. Industry figures suggest this will continue to rise as the demand for data centre services becomes ever more important in today’s era of digital information and recording.

To meet these higher demands large data centres are becoming more common and data centre operators are adopting higher-density servers. This is resulting in increased power consumption and heat generation, with some researchers forecasting that global data centre emissions will outstrip air travel emissions over the next six years.

Due to these large increases, power consumption is now a major consideration for today’s data centres. Operators are continually striving to enhance energy efficiency, reduce their power consumption, reduce their operating expense and reduce their environmental impact.

How data centres can reduce their energy consumption

Cooling is one of the most important considerations for data centres, as this ensures that data centre IT equipment is kept in optimum operational conditions. However, cooling is a massive energy user for data centres, accounting for around half of all electrical energy consumed. Therefore optimising the cooling efficiency should be one of the highest priorities for data centre providers if they are looking to reduce their energy use, especially those in charge of legacy data centres.

Legacy data centres will often have inefficient cooling equipment such as Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) units and chillers that use AC fans. In the case of CRAC units, these use mainly belt driven forward curved fans running at a fixed speed. Inefficient CRAC units can be upgraded by replacing the original AC fans with high efficiency EC backward curved fans and further improved by using the controllability of EC to give more flexible airflow management.

Upgrade projects have shown that energy savings of around 50 per cent can be achieved on CRAC units simply by replacing the AC fans with EC fans, with additional savings of a further ten to 20 per cent by reducing the fan speed.

Real-life examples

Working closely with data centre building and facility managers, ebm-papst has been able to provide significant energy savings on legacy data centre equipment through providing energy efficient solutions for cooling.

This work includes collaborating with ICT infrastructure experts Emerson Network Power and facilities management providers CBRE / Norland Managed Services to review energy efficiency at a well-known bank's London-based data centres, and then project managing the EC upgrades.

Following a successful trial, the data centres were upgraded with 76 new CRAC units of varying models (containing 191 fans in total) in a live data environment. The bank's projected annual energy savings now range between £240,000 and £270,000, with the upgrade bill set to be paid off by the end of 2015. In addition to cutting its energy consumption in half, the global finance firm has also cut its CO2 emissions by 1,322 tonnes per year which is vital when meeting increasingly stringent climate change targets.

Other projects that ebm-papst has overseen includes large-scale data centre air conditioning upgrades for a telecoms provider, that saw its data centre energy consumption slashed by 78 per cent and £185,000 saved on its annual energy bill.

Voluntary initiatives but nothing set in stone

The EU has appointed advocates for energy saving protocols in data centres, with ebm-papst being named as an official endorser of its Code of Conduct for Data Centres. The code is a growing voluntary initiative, which recognises the efforts of big business across Europe to measure and reduce the energy consumption of their IT equipment and auxiliary systems.

There are currently around 200 participating data centres registered on the scheme, belonging to 73 individual participants, including many IT and communications giants. However, there is still the scope and capability to get more businesses, of varying sizes, involved and proactively modifying their data centres.

This voluntary initiative is helping data centres, but there is still a lack of genuinely clear international standards for data centres. This was one of the main points discussed at our data centre seminar last year, with data centre expert Mark Acton from CBRE / Norland Managed Services warning data centre managers that they need to be aware of ongoing work to standardise the sector or risk getting caught out by new laws and penalties.

Unfortunately data centre regulation is still not clear enough for those in the sector, with managers unsure which best practice group is best to follow. There is also the additional problem of existing legislation which crosses over different sectors that data centre managers need to be mindful of, such as taxation under the EU Emission Trading Scheme.

Due to the large amounts of energy consumed by data centres they can be soft targets for regulation. Therefore it is important for data centres to be aware of legislation and their energy use, so they can take appropriate action to avoid any sanctions or fines.

The future of data centre cooling

Compared with other industries, the UK data centre industry is still falling behind when it comes to monitoring energy efficiency and adopting energy saving technologies. However, it is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of energy efficient cooling, and how to use energy more efficiently is now on the agenda for most data centres.

Our own work has shown that energy savings can be possible without a complete refurbishment of data centres costing hundreds of thousands. Businesses can reap serious cost savings simply by reviewing data centre energy usage, updating to modern sustainable EC cooling fans and then controlling these new fans so they are even more efficient.

Gemma Lloyd
Commercial and Marketing Assistant
Phone: +44 (0) 1245 468555