Going Green in the Data Center

Cost-saving Tips for IT Budgets

Data centers cost a lot of money to operate. Whether a small or mid-sized business has a simple server closet or a global IT-focused enterprise has invested in stand-alone facilities on a large campus, the day-to-day costs can represent a significant percentage of the IT budget.

As most organizations squeeze IT—asking leaders to deliver more innovation for less investment—identifying cost-savings is increasingly important. Fortunately for those embarking on the quest to trim the budget, there are some low-hanging opportunities to be had by becoming a lean, green IT machine.

In fact, IBM found that companies with efficient data center operations were able to spend 50% more on new applications, innovation, and other strategic investments. That’s reason enough to take action. Here are five ways to slash energy consumption within an existing data facility.

Turn up the thermostat

You shouldn’t need a sweater to enter the data center in summertime. IT hardware has advanced since many accepted cooling-related assumptions took hold. Many data centers continue to operate at the lower threshold of the recommended ambient temperature for IT hardware—65 degrees Fahrenheit—or even lower (because if cool is good, cold must be even better, we guess). Computing equipment like servers will function equally well at 80 degrees. And Microsoft even reportedly runs a Dublin data center at 95 degrees, although that may be pushing the comfort envelope. The point is that less cooling will save substantially.

Turn off the lights

We run the risk of sounding like our parents, but in addition to adopting more reasonable thermostat settings, an attention to lighting can result in electric bill savings. Flip off the lights in server closets when no active maintenance is occurring—which will be most of the time. Or take memory and habit out of the equation by installing motion sensors to light discrete parts of a larger data facility. Add in the developments in LED and ultra-efficient lighting and the savings grow.

Paint it white

Images of data centers often show black hardware in black racks with bright blinking lights. It looks great for the photo op, but it’s not the most energy efficient set-up. Cisco and HP made the switch to white cabinets some time ago. They offer better visibility and can cut lighting energy consumption by 30%. Given that lighting represents only about 5% of average data center costs, it may not make sense to reinvest in all new racks right away. But going white with any new purchases is always an option. Also consider walls, ceilings, and the rest of the interior. White is cool.

Power down idle gear

It is estimated that a stunning 30% of data center capacity is idle. These systems remain plugged in and powered on, gobbling electricity. The reasons for this are many. IT often isn’t paying for the electric—the facilities management department is—so IT isn’t set up to monitor usage. Additionally, it frequently happens that servers were allocated way back when, staff has since turned over, and now no one really knows what certain boxes are doing anymore. It seems safest to let them hum along as they are. Finally, IT pros are also understandably inclined to build in spare capacity, to meet those “just in case” situations. But with cloud, virtualization, and other options available today, there may be less power-hungry ways to reach the same goal. It takes time to tackle each of these problems in turn, but the cost-savings can add up.


According to Tech Target, “Arguably one of the biggest money savers that result from virtualization is consolidation. Virtualization allows for multiple workloads to be taken off lightly used servers and put together on one server. Consolidating in this way can eliminate the need for a large number of physical servers.” That can mean better use of existing IT hardware, lower CAPEX costs, and energy savings as more is being done on fewer boxes. Any IT shop that isn’t fully leveraging virtualization may want to access expert assistance.

Energy efficiency will continue to garner attention. U.S. data centers alone consumed about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2014. Worldwide they dominate somewhere between 3 percent to 10 percent of the global power supply. The expected growth in energy-hungry IT cannot be absorbed forever.

One way or another, every data center and IT manager will eventually be compelled to slow energy demand. Fortunately, each change they make will also drive bottom-line improvements that can free up resources for more interesting uses than paying the electric bill.

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