Physical data centers are notorious for their energy consumption, but it is possible to reduce their impact on the environment

Data centers consume massive amounts of electricity. Forbes reports that global data center power usage has already surpassed 3 percent of all electricity produced. To put that into perspective, that’s about 40 percent more electricity than the entire United Kingdom consumed. The consumption rate is projected to double every four years.

Not to worry. There’s the cloud, right? It’s true that companies that transition from their own physical data center to the cloud see a reduction in costs related to power usage. But as the author of the Forbes article explains, “It’s like trying to save the planet by turning off your lights, then going to your neighbor’s apartment and turning on theirs so you can read.” Your data center may no longer consume the power, your cloud platform service provider is. There’s no net gain in terms of the reduction of the impact on our environment. Here are ways you can push your existing physical data center toward sustainability.

It’s in the air

One of the biggest power consumers for a data center is the air conditioning system required to cool its equipment. Estimates show that a typical air-cooled data center used about 40 percent of electrical power for environmental control.

One way to reduce this consumption is to install variable frequency drives (VFDs) on air-cooled chillers. It can improve efficiency by reducing the work of compressors. The chiller consumes less power because the temperature is controlled, rather than on/off cycling at just one speed. Air conditioning with VFD can cut power consumption by up to 50 percent.

Go virtual

Your electrical consumption increases as you add physical servers. Data centers can sidestep this by leveraging virtualization technology. Virtual servers share hardware resources with other operating systems.

Virtual technology adoption optimizes the number of physical servers needed to operate. It can lower your power consumption. Computerworld reports that the energy cost savings of removing just a single server can be up to $1,200 each year, which half of that being a reduction in the cost of cooling.

According to Green House Data, virtualizing 100 servers in your data center is the equivalent of planting 1,569 trees or taking 89 cars off the street. It also increases server CPU usage by as much as 60 percent.

A light bulb moment

Retrofitting your data center to use LED lighting can help you save energy two ways. The U.S. Department of Energy advises that energy-efficient lighting systems such as LED can use anywhere from 25 percent to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. These LED bulbs can have lifespans of up to 25,000 hours. This federal agency predicts that the implementation of LED systems to replace traditional lighting systems is on track to provide a savings of more than $30 billion by American companies – equivalent to the annual output of 44 large electric plants.

Most lighting sources give off more heat than light – especially true of incandescent light sources. It creates light through heat, and about 90 percent of the energy is wasted to generate that heat. Even compact fluorescent bulbs and standard fluorescent tubes are heat-generators – although not at the same scale. These lighting systems waste about 30 percent of their energy on heat.

It means that your cooling system has to compensate for the heat generated by your lighting system. Save energy and get greener by switching to LED lighting systems.

Return on investment

Retrofitting a data center to make it green – or environmentally friendly – can be an expensive proposition. There may be significant upfront costs involved to install VFD in your chiller plant or to replace existing inefficient lighting systems with LED. The long-term payoff is worth it.

Your operational and maintenance costs will decrease. You’ll also provide a safer, healthier, and more comfortable work environment for employees. Another often overlooked consideration is the favorable reputation it can create with customers and your physical neighbors when you’re able to say that you’ve got a green data center. Learn more about how we can help you bring more energy efficiency to your data center.