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Earth Day Data Center Makeover

There's no doubt that new investments in green technology are big business. But, this Earth Day, consider making some low tech investments in your data center to save energy as well as scarce budget dollars.

There's no doubt that new investments in green technology are big business. But, this Earth Day, consider making some low tech investments in your data center to save energy as well as scarce budget dollars.I recently spoke to Rick Tashman, a data center consultant with Syscom Technologies, a firm that does work with Xerox, McGraw-Hill, Merrill Lynch, among others. They've been doing what they call "extreme data center makeovers" for their clients, and here are some free tips that you can apply at your data center to be green and save a little green.

  1. Look at Tiles and Airflow

    Tashman says that they'll sometimes see data centers where the air holes for cold air are placed in the back of the server rack. This is a Bad Thing. "It's like standing behind a car, blowing cold air into the exhaust pipe of the engine." Typical servers take cold air in the front and blow it out the back. Placing your cold air outlets in the appropriate place (the front) is perhaps one of the biggest things you can do for your energy efficiency.

  2. Replace The Dinosaurs

    "We visit clients that have air conditioning systems that are as old as twenty years, and they're hoping to get more years out of them." Tashman says that these clients are spending a fortune on preventative maintenance, not to mention spending a lot on outdated and inefficient cooling systems. Do the return-on-investment calculation. You might be surprised, and become pretty motivated to replace some of those old chestnuts once you realize how much you're spending to run them, versus a new energy-efficient unit.

  3. Get Close And Personal

    Getting away from perimeter air conditioning can help you to become more efficient. Perimeter systems are those familiar refrigerator-looking things that sit alongside the walls of the typical data center. These units can be as far as 40 to 50 feet away from the servers that they're cooling. Using "close coupled cooling", where air conditioning units are part of the rows of racks, can move the cooling as close as 3 to 6 feet away, saving, according to Tashman, "10-20% savings in energy."

    If you can't get away from perimeter cooling, use a technique called "aisle containment": make sure that your rows of servers face each other on "hot to hot" or "cold to cold" sides. That is, make sure that the fronts face each other, or the backs face each other. That way, your servers don't end up "inhaling the exhaust of another car".

  4. These Spaces Left Intentionally Blank Data center managers who leave open spaces between servers are, according to Tashman, "hurting themselves." Holes in the rack mean that the back hot air can mix with the front's cold air -- which is totally counterproductive. By putting blank plates between servers, and by putting a "roof" over the hot aisles, Tashman claims that organizations can realize another 10% savings, or more.
  5. Lose The Cable Management The metal arms and hinges that come with some servers seem great for cable management, but Tashman says that it gets in the way of airflow to the back of the unit. "By eliminating those metal hinges, we've improved customer's airflow, and we've seen power amperage draw go from 5 to 3 amps." By improving your airflow, the fans can work at lower speeds, and draw less energy.

There are certainly more complicated power and budget savings strategies, like replacing your UPS units - which can each have as much as 10% overhead. But, even without making much of a capital investment, you too can have an "extreme data center makeover" this Earth Day.

Jonathan Feldman is an InformationWeek Analytics contributor who works with IT governance in North Carolina. He has provided service assurance and network infrastructure services to the military, healthcare, financial services and law enforcement markets. Comment here, write to him at, or on Twitter at @_jfeldman.

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