The Efficient Datacenter – Not Just a Load Of Hot Air!

Want to know how to save more than $2 BILLION and 1.7 million metric tons of CO2 with just a flick of a wrist? Read to the bottom…

With the rise of cloud computing and the explosion of mobile data, we are facing an unsustainable rise in power use: data centers today are estimated to consume about 1.5% of the world’s energy power, resulting in an annual cost of $27 billion according to IDC. The way things are going, these numbers could double by 2014.

But why are datacenters using up so much energy? Well the rise of the smartphone and tablets, the mobile revolution, is driving the cloud revolution, which in turn is fueling incredible demand for Intel Xeon processor based servers, Intel’s loveliest, juiciest (and most expensive) Intel Architecture chips.

But the chips themselves can’t be drinking $27 billion worth of juice? That would be an enormous bar tab. No, the datacenters of today are inefficient and frankly a bit ’20th century’.

They spend about 40-50% of their energy use on things like cooling, and another big chunk on things like UPS (uninterruptable power supplies), and only about a 1/3 of the electricity delivered to the datacenter actually makes it into the server, where the lovely Xeon processors gently cajole the electrons into production.

The datacenter is a factory, a factory for computing. So any energy that doesn’t go into the server, is WASTED.

This is why Intel has created a guide to building servers that can run at higher temperatures. higher temperatures mean no air conditioning, and no air-conditioning means MUCH lower electricity bills – OR MORE INTEL XEON BASED SERVERS! (Which is my preferred option). You can also choose to cool using fresh air (from the outside) instead of using air conditioners. Using an economizer (a big fan) can save some serious money.

We also have a small number of uber-elite-boffins that help governments and very very large customers design better, more efficient datacenters. They then write up their experiences in the form of white papers so everyone else can benefit from their massive experience. My buddy Leif Nielsen is just such a guy, a Datacenter Architect – see some of the white papers he has worked on with Korea Telecom and a Vietnamese datacenter in Danang.

Higher Ambient datacenters or HTA datacenters can run at 81°F [27°C] or higher – we even have a customer that is running one at 122°F [50°C], but 81°F [27°C] to 104°F [40°C] seems to be the fashion these days.

Remember, higher temperatures = less cooling = lower energy usage.

HTA Examples :

  • • Facebook retooled its Santa Clara, CA data center to operate at 81°F [27°C]. Their annual energy bill fell by $229,000 and the company earned a $294,761 energy rebate from the federal government .
  • • Intel’s New Mexico Proof of Concept data center included 900 production servers with a 100 percent air exchange at up to 92°F [33°C] with no humidity control and minimal air filtration. This generated an estimated 67 percent power savings, equal to savings of $2.87 million in a 10MW DC .
  • Yahoo’s Computing “Coop” is a data center that operates without chillers, and requires water for cooling for only a handful of days each year (an estimated PUE 1.08). A 100 percent natural air flow results in an average of less than 1 percent of the buildings’ total energy consumption used for cooling .

Another way of saving costs is to get rid of the UPS. They are massive banks of batteries that the datacenter will use should the power from the street fail. But they are expensive and take up a LOT of room. So, let’s get rid of them.

Isn’t this fun? We just got rid of the air conditioners, and now we are getting rid of the UPS’s too. Together those items typically use up as much space as all the servers in the datacenter. So getting rid of them frees up space and energy for (yep, you guessed it) MORE SERVERS!

But what happens if the power fails? No worries – Intel to the rescue again. Future servers will have batteries INSIDE the servers, just like a laptop does. If the power fails, the servers can use a technology called ‘Intel Node Manager’ to automagically switch to the internal battery and if you like, turn to a lower power setting, just like your laptop does when you pull the plug out.

But Node Manager can do much more, like a car that monitors your fuel efficiency and reports your MPG’s back to you, Node Manager can monitor your electricity usage, for individual servers, racks, rows of racks, or even entire datacenters! But unlike your car, you can use Node Manager to IMPOSE a particular power state on your servers if you so wish. You can even save about 30% of your power using Node Manager without sacrificing performance. Read more about how BMW, Baidu, Oracle and China Telecom are using Node Manager here and here.

So, how do you save $2.16 Billion with just a flick of your wrist? Well easy. Just convince all the IT managers in the world to raise the temperature of their datacenters by just 5C. Turn up that thermostat.

This would result in:

  • • $2.16 billion in immediate annual power savings .
  • • Eight percent decrease in worldwide data center power consumption .
  • • 24.3 billion kWh saved. Roughly equivalent to more than a month of total energy consumption by Spain, South Africa, Australia or Taiwan .
  • • A CO2 reduction equivalent to 1.7 Million metric tons of CO2; this is the same as carbon
    sequestered by 43 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years .

Intel IT uses a lot of these techniques to make our own datacenters (we have 91) more efficient.

Want to know more? Go to our new Datacenter Efficiency website at

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