Energy Efficiency, On Site Power, Strategic Development

Getting a grip on data centre costs and efficiency

It will come as no surprise that modern data centres consume huge amounts of energy. In fact a recent report estimates that data centres will consume one-fifth of all the world’s electricity by 2025.

The ongoing digitisation of business processes across all industries is resulting in the creation of more and more data, which means data centres have to work harder than ever before.

For many data centres operators, there is an ongoing discussion around power – how it is generated, as well as how it is used. For example, many different voltages are used in the transmission and distribution of energy, which means the energy is transformed several times and each transformation results in a loss of efficiency. These losses are an unnecessary expense for both the data centre and the energy provider.

As a result, many data centres are investing considerable time into choosing the right form of power generation, with onsite power generation fast becoming a viable option for managing the way power is used and generated.

Generating power onsite makes it easier to manage the issue of transmission losses, as unused energy can be channelled back into the grid to be used when it is needed.

This method of generation also offers data centres an innovative way of controlling the costs related to power supply. It’s not uncommon for power bought in from the grid to result in cost fluctuations, even if energy consumption remains relatively stable.

Keeping track of these fluctuations in cost that are out of the data centre’s control can be a significant challenge, even with the appointment of a dedicated energy manager. Today, even the slightest gain can make a big difference to your place in the market, which is why the ability of on-site power generation to turn short-term energy costs into long-term investments is so important.

Offsetting your carbon footprint

Another challenge facing modern data centres, and indeed most businesses in general, is making sure they are able to meet new and developing standards of ecological discipline. Google, for example, has committed to offsetting 100 per cent of its non-renewable energy consumption amid raising concerns of its carbon footprint.

Even if your organisation is nowhere near the size of Google, your customers are interacting with Google and many of them will expect similar levels of commitment to offsetting your carbon footprint. Failure to show tangible commitment on this front could translate into customers taking their business to other providers.

The good news is that onsite power generation is generally more environmentally friendly than other methods. More often than not, it is based on environmentally friendly power sources, such as wind, solar, or biofuels, coupled with the fact that less energy is lost in transmission.

Of course, no conversation about onsite power generation is complete without talking about the costs attached. From transfer trip systems, protective relaying and fault current mitigation, to metering, communications systems and isolation transformers, there are many factors for data centres to consider, all of which have a cost attached. This means getting the system off the ground can often be burdensome and lengthy.

However, data centres have to be prepared to take a long-term view. Onsite systems typically yield significant cost savings over time, as well as improving the reliability of power supply, so less capital investment is required into back-up power supply systems.

What’s more, with business continuity being a major priority due to the potential financial impact of downtime, data centres cannot afford any service disruptions. If the information system is unavailable, operations may be impaired or stopped completely.

Onsite power generation provides an additional layer of security to a data centre’s power supply, while also minimising the impact of disruptions caused by things like bad weather or damaged infrastructure.

In conventional power grids, an issue in one area can completely shut down operations somewhere else, but onsite power generations ensure that a facility can stay operational even if there is a problem in a certain area.

Ultimately, running an energy efficient data centre can only happen through careful planning and implementation. The method of power generation, as well as how it is used, should both be major considerations for decision-makers in this process.

If everything is planned and executed effectively, data centres will be able to provide a service that consistently delivers results, setting themselves up for a successful and profitable future.
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Alessandro Bruschini (pictured) is Infrastructure Manager at ARUBA SpA.