Examining Energy Consumption in the Data Center

Call it the burden of enterprise growth: Even in  a souring economy, the prosperity in many industries is driving expansion, leading to the need for larger, more robust data centers that can handle much more storage than is currently being used.

But at the same time, limited power resources are threatening to check that growth, leaving IT managers and CIOs pondering the best way to scale up without blacking out.

“Virtually everyone with a data center is expecting to expand in the next 30 months, which means we’re looking at broad, industry-wide crisis,” says Ken Brill, executive director of the Uptime Institute.

Currently, facility costs have climbed from about 2 percent of budgets to 5 percent. But as power demands increase, Brill estimates that number will zoom up to 30 percent within just a few years, which could shut down other IT functions like application development. That could leave IT managers scrambling to get enough power for storage and servers, since demand for storage and connectivity is expected to increase.

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report from August 2007 noted that IT data centers consume up to 15 to 20 times more energy per square foot than a typical office building. Considering that most cubicles don’t have a high-density server tucked beneath the desk, complete with its own liquid-cooled cabinet, the EPA’s observation won’t come as a surprise to any data center managers.

But what should spark interest is the agency’s projection that data center power consumption is due to significantly increase in just the next three years, by at least40 percent. The agency notes that this will stress an already-strained electrical power infrastructure and jack up energy prices that are already uncomfortably high.

One much-discussed tactic is “green” technologies and strategies with a focus on boosting energy efficiency. But not all green storage is created equal, according to Greg Schultz at StorageIO.

In a recent report, Schultz observed that enterprises aren’t just having difficulty with increasing efficiency, but also with current consumption issues. Cooling and floor space challenges have created bottlenecks, he noted, and if they continue, application growth and business information needs could be affected.