Preaching to the Choir

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I have had a busy few weeks traveling to meetings and visiting with owners, operators, engineers, and researchers. This has given me an interesting perspective and awareness of an issue that our industry needs to address. My awareness of this issue was increased by an editorial in Mission Critical Magazine that bemoaned the lack of progress in data center design due to secrecy regarding "best practices".

I came away from all of those meetings with the sense that there are many very smart people who know how to design more efficient solutions to energy use in mission critical applications. "Best practices" can be described by experts from the largest server manufacturers, global data center developers/operators, and from academia. The issue is that we are all sitting around a large table in a closed meeting room and sharing that knowledge with others who already have a pretty good idea what to do. We are "preaching to the choir".

The result is that the vast majority of data centers, server rooms, and telecom facilities are operating in very inefficient ways. While a Microsoft might be able to design a data center with a 1.2 PUE the rest of the world is struggling to reach a 2.0.

This came out in a technical committee meeting at ASHRAE's mid-year meeting a few days ago. A comment was made by a server cooling system manufacturer that he finds it very difficult to convince smaller users to adopt the latest operating standards that could save the user tens of thousand of dollars a year in energy costs. This sentiment was echoed by several around the room and pointed to how difficult it has been to educate the broader public on the reliability of modern equipment in warmer rooms.

And when I say "broader public" I mean just that. The mechanical design director for a global retail data center operator told me that he knows his equipment will run just fine at 78 or 80 degree F inlet temperatures but his customers have not gotten the message and demand a "cold" room. It seems that until corporate IT managers and executives understand all of this we will continue to see skyrocketing energy use by data centers. Even small server rooms could benefit from elevated temperatures if key elements of "best practices" were implemented. So called "legacy" data centers might be difficult to retrofit but they can certainly be upgraded with the basic elements of "best practices"...if only the occupants understood what is possible.

The industry has a massive educational challenge if it is to stem the rising cost and consumption of energy. And the education cannot come soon enough because the projections are that server power densities will continue to climb and data storage power densities will climb even faster. Today we talk about 300 watt per square foot densities but systems are being designed already that push almost 10 times that density. It may seem that we have an endless supply of power from the grid but there are only so many power plants around the world and building a new one takes a decade or power consumption grows at a much faster rate and will stress grids around the world eventually if we cannot educate the "broader public" more effectively.