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16 - 31 January 2012

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Green Racks

Going green in the data center is no longer about energy savings alone. Notions of green buildings, space conservation and green intelligence are all seeping into upcoming data centers. By Mehak Chawla

There has always been a strong case for making data centers more efficient. Not only are these buildings energy guzzlers but they also end up consuming a lot of space and other resources. Today’s data centers account for 1.5% of the world's power consumption. That is equivalent to the power produced by about 50 power stations. The energy costs of these data centers is estimated at nothing less than a staggering $20 billion.

Data centers are environmental monsters as well. In the last year, they spat out close to 210 million metric tons of CO2 into the environment. Little wonder then that the need for efficiency within data centers is being felt stronger than ever. Couple that with a concern for the environment and amalgamate it with the strong undercurrent of the green phenomenon that the IT industry globally has awakened to and you have a win-win equation.

Though a lot of green initiatives are still a matter of CSR or of policies that exist only as whitepapers, green data centers have become a reality worldwide. In the Indian context, the steps are nascent but newer data centers are adopting green policies and technologies with a vengeance. As of now, our perceptions of greening the data center mostly linger around energy efficiency. However, the fundamentals of a green data center are gradually becoming clearer to India Inc.

The rise of third party data center services bring further hope to the green cause. Since cost is a competitive edge, hosting service providers are likely to look to more efficient technologies in order to better manage their resources and offer lower price points. This could well result in more green technology finding its way into data centers.

Green light for energy savings

A few years back, all green data center initiatives, indeed all green IT initiatives revolved around one central point namely energy savings. As a result, there was suddenly a fad around every device that consumed less energy and OEMs launched marketing campaigns proclaiming their energy-efficient devices.

While green in data center is still largely centered around saving energy costs; space conservation, green buildings, responsible disposal of e-waste and the use of local materials to reduce the overall carbon footprint are gradually coming into the picture. The reasons are evident. Power has always been, and still remains a big issue in India. Not only are we loosing a third of our power in the way of transmission losses, most of our power is also coming from burning coal. Therefore, Indian data centers are increasingly looking to optimize their power resources.

However, the deal differs for existing data centers and those that are being built or have been set up recently.

KB Rajendran, SVP - Data Center and Managed Services, Reliance Communications, commented, “Existing data centers are going green by optimizing and reducing energy consumption on cooling and handing over to UPS that are more efficient. New data centers, on the other hand, can go green by utilizing building materials that are environment friendly such as lead free paints. The equipment purchased incorporate better technology so that the power losses are less in the UPS and cooling systems.”

All of this complicates the equation. While existing data centers have little choice in terms of going green than to consolidate, newer ones can look at green IT in a holistic way. According to Sachin Gupta, Director - Operations, Catalyst Business Solutions, a company that operates a green data center in Gurgaon, “Existing data centers can only look at consolidation to look at conservation. They can't rip out their infrastructure in a bid to go green. New data centers however, can think of green right from the drawing board.” Gupta was of the opinion that green should be a backbone component of the data center.

"One of the biggest opportunities for energy savings comes from the cooling plant, which consumes the same as, or even more than, the IT load."
Shrinivas Chebbi
Country General Manager & Vice President - India, APC by Schneider Electric

As per some industry estimates, close to 70% of the data centers in India are over five years old. Therefore, for them, technologies that save energy are the only way out. Shrinivas Chebbi, Country General Manager and Vice President - India, APC by Schneider Electric, pointed out that the most obvious solution for existing data centers was to drive up energy efficiency of current facilities, thereby boosting existing capacity per square foot. Virtualization and Cloud computing are also being hailed as the saving grace for older data centers.

Close of 60% of data center costs accrue from power alone. For this reason, it has remained the first logical aspect that needs to be looked into. Chebbi elaborated, “One of the biggest opportunities for energy savings comes from the cooling plant, which in many data centers consumes the same as, or even more than, the IT load. The key to reducing cooling plant energy is to operate in economizer mode whenever possible. When the system is in this mode, high-energy-consuming mechanical cooling systems such as compressors and chillers can be turned off and the outdoor air is used to cool the data center.”

"A data center can save 4% of its operational costs by raising its temperature by as little as one degree Celsius."
R Ravichandran
Director - Sales,
Intel South Asia & World Ahead Program

Over the years, the cooling of the data center has received much attention and innovations like water-based cooling systems and cooling plants that utilize outdoor air indirectly have come into the picture. Then there are devices that do not require an elaborate cooling mechanism in the first place. According to R Ravichandran, Director, Sales, Intel South Asia & World Ahead Program, “Almost all data centers maintain an average temperature of 18-21 degrees, because that's always been the case and many of the legacy systems and non-homogenous environments compel the maintenance of this temperature.”

Ravichandran believed that High Ambient Temperature (referred to as HTA) data centers would be a prominent trend in the future. These data centers are designed to operate at higher temperatures in order to reduce cooling costs. “A data center can save 4% of its operational costs by raising its temperature by as little as one degree Celsius,” said Ravichandran.

Technologies that assist in making a data center greener

  • Technology that aids in minimizing the carbon footprints of the building include solar energy, lead free paint, water recycling etc.
  • Leveraging a Unified Computing platform for workload consolidation such as blade servers can help
  • The use of low-emission building materials
  • Sustainable landscaping
  • Water based data center cooling
  • Hot aisle, cold aisle containment methodology

To certify or not

So far, green data center themes in India are mostly centered around the PUE or DCIE metrics that directly or indirectly reflect the additional energy required to run a defined IT load. These standards revolve mostly around energy consumption in a data center and don't take other factors into account.

A data center with a PUE of 1-1.5 is considered to be highly efficient; those with a rating of around 2 are believed to have some sort of efficiencies built in; while those above 3 are regarded as highly inefficient. However, experts are now arguing that while PUE is a good measure for energy efficiency, it is not an apt measure for weighing how green a data center is.

PUE is not a measure of how green a data center is. Ratings akin to Energy Star for data center equipment are required for CIOs to be able to incorporate carbon footprint as a measure while evaluating IT equipment.

According to Moiz Vaswadawala H, Vice President & Business Head, Technology Infrastructure Services, Wipro Infotech, whose Noida data center is a LEED Gold-rated building, “While these (PUE and DCIE) indeed bring attention to wastage and drive various initiatives, the focus is now turning to optimizing the IT load itself.” With this shift in the perception of green, the need for a green standard or guideline is being felt across the industry.

Elaborated Vaswadawala, “Green certifications are important fundamentally to ensure that we follow a tried and tested path. The importance of the certification can be different for a data center service provider as opposed to a data center owned and operated by an enterprise. While the economic benefit and social responsibility is crucial in both scenarios, the certifications can mean the difference between winning or losing business. Initiatives like the Open Datacenter Alliance have defined many disclosure norms for data centers primarily to help consumers benchmark a service before purchasing the same.”

CIOs agree with this line of thinking. Hemanth Kumar, IT Head, Sports Nutrition Technologies India, who has so far maintained servers on his company’s premises and is now looking out for hosting partners, is of the view that green certifications, if there were any, would have played a role in influencing his decision. Even now, Kumar is looking to reach out to only those data centers that have a LEED rating. “Green brings in efficiency and that also reduces costs for us. So it makes a solid business case,” he said.

"Data center operators no longer have to be in the dark about energy efficiency."
Sanjay Motwani
Regional Manager, India & Middle East, Raritan

Despite the unanimous need for a green standard, no one is disputing that PUE makes a good starting point. “The Green Grid's PUE creates a common reference point that makes it possible for data center operators to start making important assessments of their facilities, as well as their going-forward strategies for reducing energy usage. Data center operators no longer have to be in the dark about energy efficiency,” observed Sanjay Motwani, Regional Manager, India and Middle East, Raritan.

Others believe that, while LEED was more of a green building certification than a data center certification, it could be a useful tool for organizations to start mapping green trends in their data center. Said Sudipto Chakrovarty, a green evangelist and tech analyst, “LEED guidelines for its 2012 rating system can be a good preview for organizations to assess the trends in the data center space and get some insight into the minutiae of green engineering.”

However, going forward, green certifications are likely to be the norm for the data center industry. With the rise of hosted services, these certifications could carry a lot of weight and though a green certification is not a supreme criterion for many customers as of now in India, that scenario is expected to change. In fact, the Government of India has formed a national policy group to focus on Data Center energy efficiency and to develop a National design code for energy conservation in Data Centers and a best practice manual for Indian Data Centers in consultation with the industry.

Why data centers are labeled as power guzzlers

  • Data centers are estimated to consume 1.5% of total world power and the figure is rising rapidly; this is equivalent to 50 power stations
  • Data centers are generating 210 million metric tons of CO2; equivalent to 41 million cars
  • They use approximately 300 billion liters of water; equivalent to nearly 250,000 Olympic sized swimming pools
  • Many data centers still use CFCs in their chillers
  • $27 billion is the annual server energy cost

Source: Intel

Enter the software

Green in the data center has always been about hardware that consumes less power. Be it lighting systems or servers or cooling plants, power consumption has always been looked at from the hardware perspective in the data center. However, with a more holistic view of green that is now emanating from within the data center walls, software is making an entry into the green space.

Till now, the role of software in the green data centers has been relegated to applications that map and monitor energy consumption. They basically help in validating how much energy devices consume. IT Service Management tools and BMS are an essential part of any well-established data center. Energy management software has been a new addition to this portfolio of management tools.

These software applications work as virtual dashboards for data center managers and assist them in keeping tabs on various power-related aspects of a data center. According to Motwani of Raritan, software ensures that no data center head is in the dark about the power consumption in his data center. “Raritan’s Power IQ energy management software can issue carbon usage and change reports for independent certification and the issuance of carbon credits. The analytics software collects device-level power data and calculates the amount of carbon produced to generate the energy consumed by the IT devices. It can generate reports at any level including the data center, customer, department and rack.”

Motwani also said that this was the era of Intelligent PDUs. These PDUs along with management software are capable of measuring power, energy trends and peak draw at the device, rack or data center level.

Software is also playing a key role in form of technologies such as virtualization and Cloud computing that are changing the face of the Indian data center. K P Bala, Associate Director, Infrastructure Services, Marlabs Software, said, “Software plays a vital role in Green IT. For example, virtualization technology considerably helped increase the hardware utilization which directly resulted in reducing the overall data center footprint. Leading virtualization software vendors have increased server utilization from 10-15% upwards to 80%.”

Rajendran of Reliance was also of the view, the green in the data center is no longer only about hardware that consumes less power. “In fact, though hardware is more efficient today it still consumes more power on an absolute basis. The emphasis of a green data center should be to reduce the overall carbon footprint of a DC facility,” he said.

How Catalyst saved energy and costs in its Green Data Center

DG fuel saving: In accordance with full load design, they deployed 2 X 320 KVA DG sets in N+1 Configuration. On 80% loading, 320 KVA DG consumes around 70-75 liters of diesel per hour.

  • During Phase 1: their initial loading of the 320 KVA DG was around 25% -30%. At this load the fuel consumption by 320 KVA DG was around 25 to 30 liters per hour. They deployed 65 KVA rental DG having fuel consumption of 7-9 liters / hour.
  • During Phase 2: The loading of the 320 KVA DG was around 30% - 40%. At this load the fuel consumption by 320 KVA DG was around 35 to 45 liters per hour. Catalyst deployed 125 KVA rental DG having fuel consumption of 13-17 liters / hour.
  • Upcoming Phase 3: They are expected to reach peak loading of 105 KVA (Projected around April-May 2012). At this time the peak loading on 320 KVA DG will be 40% - 60% and fuel consumption will be 45-50 liters / hour. Catalyst will deploy 200 KVA rental DG having fuel consumption of 22-27 liters / hour.

Savings incurred on Fuel: Catalyst is estimated to have saved Rs 972,000 worth of diesel till April 2011. The figure is likely to hover around Rs 595,380 till December 2011.

Through this they prevented CO2 emission @ 2.68 kg/ liter = 52,100 liters (till December 2011)

Savings through Chiller: Sachin Gupta, Director, Catalyst, said, “We have two chillers in N+1 mode and 4x12 tr. There is a compressor in each chiller. But we have been running only a single compressor (1x12 tr.) of chiller since 1st April-2010. As a result, we save almost 250-300 units of electricity every day. We have saved about Rs 700,488 till date.”

Catalyst has also deployed Aisle hot Containment of InRow cooling solutions for low to high density racked IT loads. Available in rack or aisle level configurations, these containments are designed to completely separate the supply and return air paths of the IT equipment. The air separation ensures the warmest possible air is being returned to the InRow cooling units, which further increases the efficiency, capacity, and predictability of the cooling system.

Front containment can also be added to the rack configuration for additional isolation and noise dampening.

Saving through Virtualization: By adopting Virtualization in their data center, Catalyst has consolidated 25 physical servers to just 3 physical servers.

  • 25 physical servers were consuming 25 X 300 watts = 7,500 watts of power.
  • That consumption has come down by 6,300 watts. As a result, 55,188 units of electricity have been saved.
  • That amounts to Rs 275,940 saved in the last one year.

Looking at green holistically

If we are to sum up the green wave within Indian data centers, it would be apt to remark that we are just beginning to look at the bigger picture. The focus of green is gradually shifting from energy savings to overall efficiency in terms of power, space and resources. Aspects like e-waste management are also coming into the picture.

There are also emerging trends like equipment that runs at a higher temperatures and the focus is shifting to virtualization and Cloud computing technologies that help in increasing efficiencies . Also under the purview is data storage where elements like data tiering are being looked into from an energy saving perspective.

Intelligent software is fast making its way into the data center and power and space dashboards, segregated to the rack and server level are soon going to be at the CIO’s fingertips. Power management within the data center is indeed becoming an industry in itself with both new and established players offering solutions.

Also, a lot of newer data centers, are thinking of green right from inception. Though a LEED rating might be the ultimate purpose the fact is that green is being built into the data center right from the first design and not as an afterthought. All this is also leading to growth in another quarter namely data center consulting services.

Despite the surge in the green factor in the data centers, the road remains a tough one to traverse for the old data centers that are struggling with their PUEs. Implementing green IT tools in these data centers is difficult because the migration process is slow and could involve downtime, which in a data center environment is unacceptable. Also, unlike some other developed countries there is no regulatory mandate and, therefore, no sense of urgency.

However, with green becoming more of a norm than a mandate, existing data centers are expected to see a lot of consolidation and move towards green in their refresh cycles. For the data centers that are a work in progress there is no doubt that green would be in their blood.

mehak.chawla@expressindia.com



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