Having previously explored the main opportunities for making data centers greener, by reducing the amount of energy they use and using renewable sources, it is worth taking a look at some of the latest solutions and innovations that operators are coming up with to tackle the issues.
With many of the biggest data center operators now global names such as Google, Facebook and Amazon it is vital for their business models, and the perception of their brands, that they can be considered to be doing their utmost to reduce their environmental footprints. Being green, as in most industries, is seen as more of a necessity than a bonus by consumers.
Perhaps the main driver for green innovation is the fact that the demand for data storage is growing so rapidly. It already account for around 0.3% of the world’s gas emissions but, with concepts such as cloud computing becoming increasingly popular, the need for servers on which to store all of this data (in the cloud) is mounting.
Without innovations in the industry, providers would really struggle to operate on a sustainable basis, whilst of course, it is not lost on these companies that measures which reduce the energy consumed by data centers in particular should ultimately reduce their overheads too.
A sample of the latest innovations in green data center management:
Arguably the biggest green challenge facing operators is how to cool their data centers efficiently. Cooling using traditional refrigerator or chiller units is usually the largest consumer of energy outside of the core IT equipment and therefore often presents the largest potential economic as well as environmental saving.
Operators are increasingly realising the benefits of moving their data centers to naturally cool locations and making the most of the ambient conditions.
For example, Facebook is currently building its first outside of the US, in northern Sweden, near the Arctic Circle whilst Google already has a plant in Finland. Facebook predict that their new Swedish center will be able to stay cool using the outside air for eight months of the year.
However, even these strategically located data centers still need a system for cooling when the outside temperatures rise in the summer. One method is to pump recycled water throughout the center to dissipate the heat and Google for example has created cooling systems which take a local sustainable source of water – sea water in Finland and canal water in Belgium – and purify it to a level that is sufficient for cooling.
Renewable Energy Sources
It is unavoidable that data centers still need to consume significant amounts of energy even when the infrastructure is made as energy efficient as possible. Servers themselves still need a substantial energy supply and so many operators are moving towards the use of exclusively renewable sources. Whilst some have formed partnerships with specialist renewable energy suppliers, other larger organisations are sourcing their own renewable energy directly. Apple are rumoured to be building a dedicated solar power farm adjacent to their major North Carolina data center so that the plant can become self sufficient and sustainable meanwhile Facebook’s aforementioned Swedish center has been located near to a massive hydroelectric dam which would more than cover its energy needs.
Although most data center operators are turning their attention to green and efficient ways of cooling their buildings and servers there have also been some interesting ideas as to what to do with the heat itself. Studies involving Microsoft and the University of Virginia have been looking at recycling that heat to warm neighbouring buildings. At the moment the practical application of this has only involved buildings on university campuses but it is envisaged that in time servers and mini server farms could even be deployed in homes – most likely apartment buildings – once operators have found a solution to potential security and safety issues. By sharing premises, operators and home builders may also find they can cut their initial constructions costs and impacts.
Other operators, who are now starting to look at the efficiency of their actual construction techniques for further savings, see the use of prefabricated modular buildings as a way of not only cutting these initial costs but the consumption of energy and materials in the process too. Modular centers also have the benefit of being flexible and easily scale-able so that the potential for wasted capacity is reduced and with it the likelihood of wasted energy.
It really is a case of ‘watch this space’ for further developments; as the demand for data centers will no doubt continue to surge, pressure from all sides will keep the operators keen on green innovations to ensure that services such as dedicated hosting and cloud computing are sustainable.