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Managing Data Center Energy Use thru Virtualization

It is no secret that data centers consume lots of energy, both for computer processing loads and the HVAC energy to cool their processors. Data center virtualization focuses on reducing data center energy consumption while providing clients with a flexible, adaptable IT solution.

Data center virtualization is a term that describes two distinct approaches to energy conservation in a data center. On-site virtualization is the idea of converting from a low-density, high-quantity data center to a low-quantity, high-density data center. Data migration is the trend in shifting data center functions off-site to a rented portion of a larger data center.

On-site Virtualization
In its simplest form, virtualization consists of consolidating numerous dedicated servers onto a single, powerful system. Virtualization software essentially makes one physical server behave like multiple separate systems, allowing each distinct computing need to operate on the same physical server and leveraging the excess capacity of the virtualized single system.

Utilization rates of traditionally designed data center racks are commonly in the range of 5-15%. Implementing virtualization increases utilization to upwards of 80%, reducing the amount of IT equipment required to perform the same amount of processing. Virtualization results in a “right sized” data center that does not include significant excess capacity and which has a smaller physical footprint than a traditionally designed, non-virtualized data center. Less installed IT equipment means less heat dissipation to be addressed by mechanical cooling systems. For clients whose data processing needs have exceeded their available data center capacity, the more efficient use of resources in a virtualized system can create necessary excess capacity to meet increased processing needs.

Benefits of virtualization include:

  • Lower electric consumption by IT systems (less installed equipment running at greater utilization)
  • Smaller heat dissipation requiring less mechanical cooling (cost & greenhouse gas reductions)
  • Lower first cost for IT equipment
  • Smaller building footprint needed (reclaim space for other functions)

Data Migration
Data migration refers to shifting data center functions to an off-site hosted data center, typically as a rented service. The off-site data centers are generally top-of-the-line facilities that implement energy saving strategies like server virtualization. These data centers are often intentionally located in milder climates that allow for the use of more efficient mechanical cooling systems. Evaporative cooling can significantly increase cooling system efficiency. In cool, dry climates economizers can be used for many more hours during the year for increased efficiency. It may even be possible to eliminate compressorized cooling altogether, utilizing only pumps and fans, for substantial energy savings.

In addition to the benefits of virtualization, data migration offers the following:

Experienced IT Professionals – Hire a dedicated operations team with the expertise necessary to focus on balancing server runtime and energy efficiency, reducing the demand on an owner’s local facilities team.

No Upgrades – With a turnkey solution, owners do not have to constantly upgrade servers to keep pace with the industry. They can rely on their contracted data provider to meet their processing needs.

Reduced Capital Cost – No cost for data center infrastructure; rental expense vs. capital expense on budget sheet.

Reduced Square Footage – Regain valuable floor area for purposes more directly related to the core business or, in the case of new construction, build a smaller building.

Flexibility – Data migration can be utilized to meet temporary increases in data center capacity requirements, or to allow an owner to grow by renting before committing to the capital expense of expanding their own data center

Data migration is not the right approach for every client. For those with very sensitive data, migration simply may not be a viable option. In these cases, on-site virtualization is still an option that will save significant amounts of energy.

MEP Engineering Implications
Server virtualization increases the density of the data center and reduces the total floor area required. It also reduces the total power consumption through increased utilization of IT equipment. These changes have a significant impact on HVAC system needs, and the same system that served a low-density data center will not be sufficient to cool a high-density data center. Air management is significantly more critical for a high-density data center in order to prevent air recirculation so that the high-density racks receive sufficient cooling airflow, particularly as obsolete IT equipment is removed and rack layouts change. It’s important to optimize the HVAC system design in step with changes to the IT design in order to maximize total energy reductions.

When designing data centers, our engineers create a holistic design that incorporates all necessary trades. Our designs are carefully and thoughtfully developed to ensure flexibility for growth, preparing for the expansion and contraction of IT equipment. We utilize advanced computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling to troubleshoot problem areas and identify potential hot spots before they are created, and whole-building energy modeling to quantify potential energy reductions.

Our clients can expect that from initial planning through startup and commissioning, we will provide a cohesive design that achieves anticipated energy reduction targets and exceeds client expectations. Designing to support data center virtualization is just one more way we advance the built environment, saving energy and money for our clients.

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