Lean and Green Data Centers Deliver Huge Savings
As one of the largest privately held trucking companies in North America, US Xpress is used to moving things quickly. But when it came to modernizing its data center, the company decided to take a slow and steady approach.
When he came on board three and a half years ago, Director of Infrastructure Doug Dunsmore inherited a data center that had grown organically over time, with all the usual problems that entails: aging power infrastructure, server sprawl, machines that had been replaced but never decommissioned, and soaring power and cooling bills.
“Our company runs 24/7, so changing anything takes a long time,” Dunsmore says. “We didn’t try to do this all in a week or just shut down the A/C to see what would happen. We formulated a plan and stuck to it.”
To get the data center under control, Dunsmore started by taking a thorough equipment inventory. In some cases, he found servers still drawing power but not performing any function because the people responsible for them had left the company.
Ultimately, US Xpress eliminated about 25 percent of its data center equipment, going from being roughly 75 percent virtualized to almost 95 percent. It also replaced aging blade servers with new models that require 40 percent less power, modernized its storage area network, scrapped a 12-year-old uninterruptible power supply for two Eaton 9390 UPS systems and ripped out 3,000 to 4,000 feet of unnecessary cabling. In addition, US Xpress redesigned the data center layout to a hot-aisle/cold-aisle setup.
“Our old data center used twice as much cooling power as we needed because of all the inefficiencies,” Dunsmore says. “We went from using 80 kilovolt-amperes of power down to 50kVA and from running 40 tons of AC down to 20. We cut our footprint by about half and are now about 40 percent more efficient than we used to be.”
The next step for US Xpress, Dunsmore says, will be to containerize the server racks so the company will no longer be cooling sections of the room it doesn’t need to cool.
Like US Xpress, many companies are discovering that going green saves green. According to CDW’s 2012 Energy Efficient IT Report, the concept of bringing energy efficiency to the data center has taken a firm hold, with 83 percent of respondents reporting that they have reduced energy costs by a percent or more. By consolidating and modernizing their data centers — twin pillars for boosting data center savings — businesses of all types are able to cut power demands and trim costs.
Green IT Generates Savings
For Online Tech, a Tier-3 data center with 50 employees and three locations in Michigan, going green comes down to three actions, says Director of Operations Jason Yaeger: Separate the hot and cold air inside the data center, monitor usage to identify the least efficient equipment, and then replace it with more energy-efficient units.
“Probably the most important part is monitoring,” Yaeger adds. “If you aren’t collecting data about how much energy you’re using in every area of your facility, you won’t be able to focus on the things you need to do to save power.”
For example, two years ago Online Tech replaced all older UPS units, which were running at 75 percent efficiency in one data center with new 93 percent efficient UPS models. Besides wasting less power, the new units produce less heat, driving down cooling costs. The move saved the company thousands of dollars per month, Yaeger says, and qualified Online Tech to receive a large reimbursement from the local utility for being more energy efficient.
“The more efficient we are, the more cost competitive we can be,” Yaeger says. “We can then pass those savings on to our clients by offering them more competitive rates.”
Ambient Air as a Cooling Solution
When a company is in the business of making other companies more energy efficient, it needs to lead by example. That’s why Portland Energy Conservation Inc. (PECI), whose clients include large utilities and government organizations, put its own expertise to good use when overhauling its data center three years ago.
The first step in the process was to virtualize and consolidate, says Scott Schuetz, director of IT and facilities for the 300-person company in Portland, Ore. PECI went from an old-school data center with six racks of heat-belching servers to a highly contained system featuring more than 100 virtual servers on seven physical machines and a hybrid storage system that combined both solid-state and serial ATA drives. Next year, the company plans to consolidate down to four physical servers.
Another key ingredient toward energy efficiency is air, Schuetz adds. The new data center is cooled by ambient air vented in from surrounding offices and funneled into sealed server cabinets. Hot air coming off the servers is then shunted through chimneys on top of the cabinets and sent back into the building’s heating and air conditioning system, where it provides heat for the retail space on the first floor of the building and hot water throughout PECI’s office space.
By manipulating airflow, PECI raised the maximum data center temperature to 85 degrees, Schuetz says. With Portland’s temperate climate, the only time the system needs to kick in is on weekends during the summer when the building’s heating and cooling system is turned off. That, in combination with PECI’s more efficient IT, saves the company more than $25,000 a year in electricity, he adds.
“Airflow management is one of the top things you can do on the facilities side,” Schuetz says. “If you raise the temperature in your server room but don’t manage the airflow, you could kill your equipment. But the majority of savings comes from more efficient IT. It’s the continuous improvements in information technology that are driving reductions in power distribution and cooling.”
- Take stock. The first step is to do a thorough data center inventory, then eliminate gear that’s too old, inefficient or no longer needed, says US Xpress Director of Infrastructure Doug Dunsmore.
- Monitor twice, cut once. Unless businesses carefully monitor energy usage over time, they won’t know where to begin making changes, explains Online Tech Director of Operations Jason Yaeger.
- Seek outside expertise. IT pros are not necessarily facilities experts. Finding a mechanical engineering firm or other expert partner who supports a business’s green goals will help the project succeed, adds PECI Director of IT Scott Schuetz.