Data Center Energy: Past, Present and Future (Part Two)

Data Center Energy: Past, Present and Future (Part Two)

Nothing Is Certain but Death and Taxes—Even in the Data Center

This article is the part two of a three-part series on energy management in the data center. (See parts one and three.)

Last week, I wrote about the past approaches to data center power management and the state of rising inefficiency. I presented a case for more accurately assessing current power consumption and explained why past approaches for calculating power requirements or manually measuring power were insufficient for establishing proactive energy-management policies.

In this article, I will overview some of the current trends that make it imperative that data center teams consider a more holistic approach for monitoring and controlling temperature, airflow and power in the data center. These trends have been widely reported in the industry, or observed first-hand in data centers around the world that are owned and operated by our customers and our partners’ customers.

The good news is that there are many trends and innovations that make it possible to drive up conservation even within the largest sites and facilities. Before we talk about next steps, consider the trends in this article and ask yourself at least some of the questions raised in each section.

Trend: Virtualization and Consolidation

Originally virtualization initiatives delivered on their promises of reducing operating costs, improving service delivery and contributing to a more scalable data center model; but as a power-management mechanism, VMs proved to be a crude tool that was soon overtaken through increased VM load (as VMs became a standard service). But the combination of application consolidation and device consolidation/minimization has introduced larger numbers of blade servers and much higher utilization rates for those blades. As a result, power consumption per rack has increased significantly.

The higher-density racks are problematic in two ways. First, they can result in a data center exceeding the capacity of a site that was not designed for a virtualized environment. Second, they introduce hot spots in the data center that can lead to equipment failures unless air-conditioning and airflow adjustments are made. These can, in turn, increase costs.

What is the rack density in your data center? Are you maximizing the return on investment in blade servers, or are you buying more racks than you need to accommodate power requirements? Many legacy centers today, especially in countries with older power-delivery infrastructures, operate with underutilized racks and inefficient power distribution in the data center as they try to take advantage of virtualization.

Trend: Power Availability Issues

With data center compute densities on the rise, building a new facility calls for a survey of utility companies and their power-delivery limitations, rate scales and failure rates. Larger companies cannot necessarily build in the location of their choice if the local power company is unprepared for the additional energy requirements.

Besides the impact on site selection, existing facilities around the world are approaching power ceilings as utility companies struggle to keep up with demand. For example, in Japan only 2 out of the country’s 54 nuclear power plants are online following the March 2011 Tsunami. So far this summer, conservation efforts have worked and there have been no planned blackouts, but the possibility still looms. And other countries, it is typical that regions are consuming 90% of available energy on a consistent and rising basis. In Japan, a micro-industry has emerged, with companies that evaluate and report on real-time consumption of electricity by city and region.

Whether it is an infrastructure issue that impedes delivery, a production capacity limitation, or a natural disaster that takes a major supplier offline, the impact on local businesses can result in severe restrictions on their growth and ability to operate data centers to their fullest.

Does your company have a plan for operating at severely restricted levels of power, if necessary, as a result of a natural disaster? Do you have an energy-management solution in place that can help you introduce controls and lower consumption in an orderly fashion that aligns with your business priorities?

Trend: Power “Quality of Service” Becoming Mission Critical

As businesses and markets globalize and day-to-day business becomes Internet-centric, even a small power outage can be damaging to a company’s bottom line. Highly dense data centers and today’s much faster compute platforms are also able to generate surges of demand that can themselves result in damage to the data center equipment.

Being able to monitor power and proactively make adjustments in the event of a power failure have become cost-effective practices that prolong the life of equipment while they also avoid disruptions to business. Is your data center monitored? Do you understand the power and thermal patterns that affect reliability, service continuity and cost of service delivery at your site?

Trend: Energy Regulations and Taxes Add to Data Center OPEX

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to introduce new Energy Star standards for the data center in the near future.

These regulatory practices and the related fines and taxes are also being adopted in other countries. In Japan, for example, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) operates its “Top Runner” program, offering guidance similar to that of the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star program, for energy-efficiency equipment selection support. METI has been working to develop data center efficiency metrics and to harmonize them with those of the U.S. DoE, U.S. EPA, U.S. CoC and The Green Grid (a global organization focusing on data center efficiency improvement). METI and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIC) each publish recommendations for data centers, and they plan to consolidate these recommendations into a single guideline in the next few years.

Taxing energy is being debated in various countries.[1] Japan previously taxed energy, but the tax has been since repealed. In the U.S., “cap and trade” programs are being introduced in some states.

California is receiving a lot of attention currently, as it prepares to launch the nation’s first cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing emissions.[2] This summer, the state is starting a trial run of an online auction site where 150 major “emitters” can bid on carbon allowances. Starting this fall, California will distribute annual allowances to industrial entities and factories; in 2015, the program will also apply to fuel distributors.

Foreseeably, companies will have to actively monitor and restrict power use to stay under government-mandated “for-free” levels of consumption and avoid taxes or extra purchases at higher rates. What are your company’s peak consumption rates and how much could you cut back if budgets forced conservation?


This look at power restrictions, environmental variables and taxes would be depressing if there were no remedies in sight. But power-management solutions are evolving and can put you back in control with a broad range of effective, proactive energy-monitoring and on-the-fly adjustment capabilities, some of which were hinted at in this article.

[1] Global taxes on carbon emissions/energy consumption:

[2] San Jose Mercury News, August 30, 2012, “California’s cap-and-trade program to cut emissions starts trial run” by Dana Hull (,

About the Author

Jeff Klaus on data center energy efficiency

Jeffrey S. Klaus is the director of Data Center Manager (DCM) at Intel Corporation.

Jeff concludes this series with suggestions for forward-looking data center best practices. Look for Part Three to learn how you can keep your company on a path that allows you to adjust for the real-world future of energy as it relates to—or restricts—the delivery of business infrastructures and services.

Leading article photo courtesy of 401(K) 2012