The energy efficient data center: Balance hype, social responsibility

Customers are looking for green cloud-computing options. Cloud providers must balance the "going green" hype while working toward more energy efficient data centers.

Green cloud computing can help a provider cut costs and market to environmentally conscious customers. But cloud providers must balance the hype surrounding green and corporate social-responsibility initiatives with their ultimate requirement -- highly available and reliable cloud services for their customers. 

The concept of "going green" is gaining momentum across all industries -- and cloud computing is no exception. Many customers want to reduce their environmental footprint, and are turning to cloud providers that offer green cloud computing and energy-efficient data centers.

No one is thinking hundreds of years down the line, and even these sustainable energy sources can make an impact on the environment.

Lex Coors
Vice President of Data Center Technology and Engineering, Interxion

Many large, pure-play public cloud providers, including IBM and HP, have announced various green data center initiatives. Ebay recently revealed plans to build a data center powered by fuel cell technology rather than the national power grid.

Interxion, a Netherlands-based carrier-neutral data center and managed service provider acquires more than 50% of its power through renewable energy sources across its 28 data centers in 11 countries. Its data centers leverage hydroelectric power, among other energy sources, and take advantage of the "free cooling" that the cold Scandinavian air provides, according to Lex Coors, vice president of data center technology and engineering for Interxion.

Depending on where a cloud provider is located, various renewable energy options might be available, including the wind, hydroelectric or solar energy, he said, adding that providers in France and the U.K. may soon be relying on wind farms.

The energy efficient data center: How green are your servers?

Renewable energy isn't available to every cloud provider, but anyone can build a more energy efficient data center, starting with server hardware, said Amy DeCarlo, principal analyst of security and data center services at Current Analysis.

Vendors have begun building servers that can run at higher temperatures, which lower cooling costs. Cloud providers should consider partnering with these vendors to cut down on energy consumption and costs in their data centers, she said. 

"Providers need to take a look at their legacy equipment and decide if their servers are as energy efficient as possible," she said. Server consolidation can also help, she added.

Smaller providers looking to reduce their footprint can consider colocation facilities with other cloud providers, DeCarlo said, noting a significant cost-savings opportunity in addition to a smaller environmental footprint. 

Don't get carried away with green cloud computing

Using sustainable methods to power or cool data centers must be carefully implemented. For instance, using water to cool a data center can have a negative impact on the local environment.

"In the Netherlands, we can drill up to 300 feet down for water for cooling power, but we can't simply pump hot water back in the ground for the towns," Coors said.

Other data centers use ocean water for cooling, but pumping hot water back into the ocean can be deadly to sea life. Cloud providers need to give that water time to cool before returning it to the ocean. "No one is thinking hundreds of years down the line, and even these sustainable energy sources can make an impact on the environment," he said.

Striking a balance between a green cloud, reliable cloud

Everything in moderation is important -- especially when it comes to green cloud computing, said Eric Woods, research director for Pike Research, a consulting firm for global clean technology markets.

More on green cloud computing:

Green cloud computing: Falling carbon emissions

Cloud Providers: How to make energy efficient data centers

Using virtualization to achieve green data centers

Customers need a dependable and available cloud environment. Despite how "green" a cloud provider may be, customers still value reliable cloud services over everything else, Woods said.

"Green credentials will be a strong requirement for data center businesses going forward, but data center managers need to be assured that they will have the same level of reliability they've always had," he said.  

While cloud providers should consider renewable resources, having a backup strategy in place is necessary as green cloud computing can be idealistic, DeCarlo said, noting that cloud providers must strike a balance between offering more energy-efficient, socially responsible practices and upholding their services.

"Harnessing the power of some sustainable sources -- like wind energy -- can be quite difficult," she said.

Cloud providers should take advantage of free air cooling and local resources -- like water availability as providers like Interxion has done -- and then maximize their resources by running their data centers at the maximum operating temperature, Woods said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer.

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