Data center energy use, consolidation

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Data centers - centralized locations where computer servers store and process information - play a key role in the function of society today.  Demand for data center capacity is growing, as more and more digital information is collected and used to refine our technological experiences.  For example, the growth of a smart electric grid relies in part on real-time data collection and analysis on a massive scale.

Data centers consume significant amounts of energy, primarily in the form of electricity.  Progress in computer energy efficiency has reduced data centers' electricity consumption per unit of capacity, but the overall growth of data center capacity means they consume more and more electricity every year.  Some data centers choose to buy renewable energy to serve their needs.  In addition, data centers typically need cooling capacity, creating additional energy demand.

Energy costs are driving some data centers to consolidate.  For example, many data centers in the U.S. serve federal agencies.  In 2010, the federal government began a major effort to consolidate data centers and close unneeded facilities.  The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative is designed to promote "Green IT" principles by reducing the overall energy and real estate footprints of government data centers and reduce data center costs.  If the initiative succeeds in its mission, it will shift investment towards more efficient technologies.  Another anticipated benefit of consolidating data centers is enhanced IT security.

As the initiative developed, agencies identified 3,133 federal data centers -- nearly three times as many as the nation's Chief Information Officer initially posited.  This growth is due in part to a broadened threshold for what counts as a data center, but also reflects imperfect information about total federal assets.  Of these facilities, the initiative now plans to close roughly 40%, or at least 1,200 data center locations.  According to the CIO's list, 525 will be closed by the end of 2012.

Many of the surplus facilities pruned off by the federal data center consolidation initiative may continue life in the private sector.  New owners may succeed if they can manage these data centers' energy consumption and benefit from participation in creative energy strategies like demand response or net metering distributed generation.

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