By Sudipta Sanyal, Principal Architect – Data Centers Services, Aurionpro Solutions
In our current digital era, data centers have emerged as high-powered engines supporting the growth of enterprises across sectors. Over the past decade, India’s data center growth has caught up to, and even surpassed, that of many developed nations. These data centers, sprawled across over 8 million sq. ft., are projected to require nearly 5 gigawatts of energy in the next ten years, causing a significant usage of global energy resources and generating considerable amounts of greenhouse gases.
At present, the data center industry accounts for nearly 1% of global energy consumption. Against the backdrop of the energy crisis, and ongoing climate change and global warming and probable regulatory compliance requirement for sustainability, it is imperative for organizations to discuss and implement energy-efficient and sustainable solutions and alternatives for current data center operations, and work towards building a greener future.
Energy efficient IT hardware & physical infrastructure designs
IT hardware energy consumption is a top priority in energy efficient design as it has a cascading effect on energy consumption in physical infrastructures. IT energy consumption highly depends on utilization levels. Virtualization seeks to address the underutilization of IT hardware by allowing multiple virtual servers to run on a single hardware providing the ability to run different operating systems and applications on the same hardware. It also helps to reduce the time and energy spent on data transfers, replication, and repeated processing. It also makes it possible to process a larger amount of data on a single physical server, optimizing not only energy consumption of IT hardware but also reducing the capacity and energy requirements for power and cooling, reducing e-waste, and physical space. The other design practice for increased energy efficiency of IT hardware is to optimize data storage through tiered storage, consolidate IT hardware using new generation servers through proper refresh cycle, enabling power management features, specifying high efficiency power supply module of IT hardware (introduced by the 80 PLUS program) and promote use of DC servers.
Rightsizing a data center for electrical and heat loads of IT equipment takes careful planning. When constructing a data center, the use of modular designs enables flexible expansion based on demand. This scalability ensures that resources are only allocated when needed, preventing overprovisioning and energy wastage. As demand grows, new modules can be added incrementally, avoiding the need to power and cool unnecessary space or equipment.
Alternative methods such as liquid cooling provide more sustainable energy efficient cooling system by utilizing free cooling from ambient reducing and sometimes eliminating use of an electrically driven compressor. However, most of data centers use air cooled servers presently. Optimizing the supply of air temperature and humidity control, air management by using recommended airflow protocol as per ASHRAE, use of hot/cold aisle containment for optimizing airflow, use of computer air-conditioners with variable speed fan ( EC fan), installation of variable speed chillers and pumps and optimizing chilled water temperature are some of the energy efficient cooling strategies to reduce energy consumption.
While upgrading and maintaining data centers, operators can choose to either upgrade their equipment as soon as newer, more energy-efficient models become available or choose models which can be used for a longer period and which can be recycled more efficiently at the end of life.
Reducing Carbon Emissions through Clean Energy Alternatives
Integration of renewable energy alternatives is an essential part of efforts to enhance data center sustainability. Solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric are among the key renewable energy sources that data center operators have invested in globally.
At present, these renewable energy sources do pose availability challenges for data centers due to their intermittent nature, as energy generation through these sources can vary by the minute, hour, day and season. Ongoing innovations in renewable energy technologies will address these challenges over time. In the meantime, nuclear energy could also serve as an effective clean energy alternative for data centers, as it is a reliable energy source with a minimal carbon footprint.
The limited availability of grid power while using renewable energy sources can also be resolved through the building of distributed modular data centers, that can leverage renewable energy in a more flexible and efficient manner.
Increasing workflow efficiency & data center operations through software solutions
One approach to reducing energy consumption in data centers is optimizing workflow, task management, and efficiency. Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) Systems can provide real-time insights on energy consumption, temperature, equipment performance, and more. Through this, operators will be able to identify inefficiencies, optimize equipment placement, and plan for capacity expansion more effectively. Use of AI in DCIM will increase cooling efficiency, reduce maintenance cost and enhance lifetime through predictive analytics, improve data center environment and help data center operation staff.
In a bid to bring about increased data center sustainability, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) has emerged as a widely recognized metric to evaluate the energy efficiency of data centers. Monitoring and benchmarking PUE regularly can help data centers identify areas for improvement and track their progress toward greater energy efficiency over time. DCIM using PUE data, enable operators to identify underutilized equipment, track energy trends, and optimize resource allocation & capacity management, improve environmental conditions of IT equipment at micro level within thermal operating tolerances. Additionally, PDUs can be configured with power cap mechanisms, limiting the maximum power consumption of servers and optimizing the energy demand from IT hardware running at most efficient work load through load balancing, migration and throttling. As per UPTIME 2023 annual survey, although IT/data center power consumption and PUE are top reporting priorities, there is increased focus from data center operator/client on other sustainability features like water consumption, renewable energy consumption, e-waste recycle & embodied/carbon usage during operation.
Increasing regulation governing sustainability, carbon reduction, climate change and increased energy cost from grid power of limited availability, will call for more stringent and transparent reporting requirements on energy and sustainable metrics in future.
Towards a sustainable tech-driven future
As the data center industry continues to expand, and its energy requirements correspondingly increase, the need for energy-efficient designs will become even more critical. Through effective resource allocation, renewable energy adoption, and implementation of efficient software and hardware solutions, data center operators can pave the way for a more sustainable digital future.