David Galton-Fenzi, group sales director, Zycko asks whether we can have truly green data centres.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), sales of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) fell by a massive 15 per cent in Britain during November 2006.

This sales decline can be partly blamed on a growing public awareness of environmental issues, but it is not only the motor industry which is adjusting to the impact of climate change. The data centre environment has also come under increasing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint in recent years.

According to research by the BroadGroup's Power and Cooling Survey 2006, data centres are one of the UK's biggest energy consumers. The research found that an average UK data centre uses more power in one year than the city of Leicester and there are currently at least 1,500 data centres in operation across the UK alone.

Ultimately the rising number of data centres is translating into increasingly large carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. As pressure mounts to reduce carbon emissions it is now time for data centre managers to seriously rethink the technology driving their data centres and the resulting environmental impact.

While it is unfeasible for data centre managers to rip out their existing IT infrastructure and start over, both in terms of cost and practicality, businesses should begin considering the benefits of running a more energy efficient data centre when replacing components or looking to save costs.

The main priorities of any data center manager must always be to ensure maximum availability for users, maintain optimum operational continuity / services and to drive greater efficiencies at lower operating costs. However, a reduction in carbon emissions can still be achieved without sacrificing these critical factors.

So what can data centre managers do to combat the environmental impact of their data centres?

Studies by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have revealed that between 43 and 65 per cent of data centre energy is used to power hardware equipment, between 20 and 25 per cent is used to power cooling systems and between one and three per cent devoted to lighting.

Efficient cabinet cooling

There are a number of vendor solutions currently available to help businesses cut their energy use, for example the energy used to cool data centre hardware.

While air conditioning has traditionally been the preferred method for cooling data centre hardware, vendor USystems has developed a cabinet liquid cooling technology that uses water, as opposed to fans, to help cool cabinet racks.

Whilst the initial expense of these systems is greater than that for air cooling, there are major long term energy savings and cost benefits associated that businesses should take into serious consideration. 

According to ASHRE figures, water is around 3,500 times more effective at cooling air by volume and a staggering 70 per cent of air cooling power is lost before it even reaches racks; because much of it is expelled into the data centre itself.

Furthermore, ASHRAE research also shows that statistically there are more hardware failures at the top of server cabinets.

This oddity is commonly attributed to the circuit in which air flows through and around hardware when it is driven by fans - resulting in 'hot spots'. However, this does not occur with water cooled racks and the technology is able to cool all the hardware in a cabinet equally.

Cable management

As a cheaper or shorter term option, data centre managers have begun to consider intelligent cable management systems which, in addition to cable management software, enable cabinets and racks to neatly store cables to ensure cooling vents or ducts are not restricted by stray cabling.

This ensures maximum cooling efficiency and better energy consumption, ultimately translating into reduced or minimised energy costs.

For many years, data centre managers have highlighted the benefits of the 'lights out' data centre - which is essentially a data centre rarely inhabited by humans – and instead controlled by remote management software.

The lights out data centre

Whilst power for data centre lighting may constitute only a small percentage (between 1 and 3 per cent) of total consumption, this percentage often still translates into expensive energy bills.

However, by assessing which areas of the data centre need to be lit continuously and by using more energy efficient lighting, data centre managers can help further reduce their power consumption on lighting and improve the overall carbon footprint of their business.

Keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) systems also provide the data centre manager with remote access to their servers. These systems allow users to monitor the performance and power consumption of their hardware, which makes environmental planning decisions on when to run specific applications much easier. 

For example, if high volumes of users log onto mail servers first thing in morning then the server is caused to heat up quickly, but then stays relatively cool at off-peak times - resulting in performance degradation.

KVM enables managers to study usage patterns and then schedule server usage to ensure maximum performance by, where possible, requesting users not to simultaneously run multiple systems that require high levels of processing power. 

In a medium-sized business, this could mean asking the HR department to not run the payroll system at 9am when most employees are also logging onto the server and opening numerous applications, such as email.

KVM remote management tools also enable the data centre manager to make certain server performance modifications remotely, which again lessens the environmental impact of having to travel to a data centre to make such changes physically.

Like in the motor industry, the IT industry is already taking tremendous steps forward in how it tackles the impact of climate change. Crucially, the products and expertise now exist in the IT industry to help businesses significantly improve their carbon footprint without sacrificing network performance or data security.

Whilst there may inevitably be increased short-term costs associated with selecting a greener data centre technology (be it for lighting, remote management or cooling), these are far outweighed by the longer term performance and environmental benefits.

Data centre managers have a vital part to play in developing the greener data centre and by selecting from the variety of greener technologies already available they can quickly begin to reduce their carbon footprint.