How do data centers improve energy efficiency for a more sustainable future?

Energy efficiency measures in data centers

Energy efficiency is essential for building sustainable solutions and ensuring long-term sustainable growth. Maximizing the benefits of technology while reducing its impact on the planet is one of the main challenges of data centers nowadays.

There is no doubt that power management is one of the most complex challenges in the industry. So, leader data centers are constantly working on improving their energy efficiency. For doing so, they implement all kinds of innovative techniques in order to reduce their PUE. Before going into detail about the different measures data centers implement nowadays, let’s start by defining what PUE means.

What is PUE?

PUE, acronym for Power Usage Effectiveness, is the value derived from dividing the total amount of energy used by a data center facility by the energy delivered to the data center’s computing equipment. Elements such as lighting or cooling fall into the category of energy used by a data center facility.

PUE method for metering energy efficiency at data centers

The PUE ratio indicates how efficiently a data center uses energy and, more precisely, how much energy the computing equipment uses. An ideal value would be a PUE of 1.0. According to the Uptime Institute Global Survey of IT and Data Centers Managers 2020, Europe is the region with the lowest PUE: 1.46.

This method was originally developed by The Green Grid, a non-profit IT organization, in 2007. As any other method, it has both positive and negative features. But, all in all, it is the most popular and the most effective method to measure efficiency in data centers. It was published as a global standard under ISO/IEC 30134-2:2016 and as a European standard under EN 50600-4-2:2016, in 2016.

Energy efficiency measures in large-scale data centers

When compared to traditional on-premise data centers, large data centers have a positive effect on power consumption for computing; since the utilization of physical hardware is much more optimized. However, as the need for faster and more complex computing services increases, so does the need to reduce the data centers’ footprint. 

Let’s see some of the most common energy efficiency measures data centers can (and do) put in place to reduce their power consumption, and ensure a resilient and efficient service.

Free cooling

The free cooling method consists of using low outdoor temperatures to cool a data center facility. Its adoption has quickly grown thanks to its numerous benefits in terms of cost and energy efficiency.

How does free cooling exactly work? The free cooling system turns on when outdoor temperatures are lower than the indoor temperature achieved by the air conditioning system. So, when outdoor temperatures drop to a set temperature, the free cooling system turns on. Then, a modulating valve allows all or part of the water to go through the free cooling system; instead of going through the air conditioning system’s chiller. 

By using a natural cooling source (cold outdoor air) for air conditioning, instead of an electrical chiller, data centers save a lot of energy. This is especially important if we consider that cooling systems in data centers can account for almost a half of the whole electricity consumption.

Cooling and heat management

Apart from free cooling, there are many other measures for achieving a more sustainable cooling and heat management in data centers. Here are some examples:

  • Natural refrigerants. Using natural refrigerants for cooling; instead of hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC). Since, unlike HCFC and HFC refrigerants, natural refrigerants such as water (R718) or ammonia (R717) don’t deplete the ozone layer.
  • Cold air and hot air containment. Implementing physical barriers to avoid that cold air in supply aisles mix with hot air in exhaust aisles.
  • Higher cooling temperature setpoint. Raising temperature setpoints in data centers lowers power consumption and extends the cooling systems’ lifespan. 
  • Heat recovery and recycling. Reusing data centers’ excess heat to warm nearby households, offices and schools can significantly reduce emissions. Heat recovery is a smart way of minimizing energy waste and optimizing energy consumption. Especially when considering that data centers generate a huge amount of excess heat from all the equipment and systems they host.
  • Cooling system modernization. Simply by updating cooling systems, data centers can considerably improve energy efficiency. As an example, Interxion updated its cooling systems in Madrid’s data center MAD1 and got to increase the free cooling hours from 2,700 hours per year to 7,700 hours per year.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in data centers is expected to bring considerable benefits in terms of performance, costs and efficiency. Large data centers already use AI and Machine Learning (ML) for identifying new efficiency improvements. They use deep learning and artificial neural networks for:

  • optimizing cooling systems,
  • predicting power usage,
  • and improving PUE ratios and data center management in general.

The potential to improve and optimize data center management by applying AI is huge. Data centers already use AI for improving many other aspects. For example: analyzing risks, forecasting demand, improving equipment maintenance or optimizing data centers’ design and operations. Besides, AI can even be used to find solutions to more complex issues, such as better integrating data centers in cities.

Renewable energies

Regarding energy consumption, using 100% clean and renewable energies is also a priority among major data centers. During the past years, leader data centers have been working hard on reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.

In addition, new innovative measures are constantly appearing with the goal of optimizing power consumption. So, even if there is always room for improvement, major data centers are investing a lot of resources in increasing efficiency and reducing their environmental footprint. That is one of the reasons why we rely on leader data centers; deeply committed to deliver the best quality, security and efficiency balance. Among other measures, the data centers where we host our infrastructure use 100% renewable energies.

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