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Key Metrics and Best Practices Changing for Modern Data Center Performance

By May 22, 2012Article

A successful data center implementation — whether retrofitting an existing center or constructing a new center — requires a coordinated understanding between the CIO and CFO functions as to what needs to be done and why. It is crucial that a company align its data center management with its initiatives to control operating costs.
But in reality the CIO, facilities managers and CFO often operate in separate decision silos. Few data center managers have direct responsibility for monitoring energy costs. Opportunities for reducing infrastructure heating and cooling costs are usually the responsibility of facilities managers. And CFOs often lack awareness of the cost implications from rapidly changing data center technologies and infrastructure.
“Executive Guide: Best Practices for Leading Edge Data Centers,” Corporate Eco Forum’s recent study of data center energy performance and best practices for improving sustainability, found key trends in energy costs:

  • Energy consumption by data centers quadrupled over the last decade despite the doubling in energy efficiency of processors every two years.
  • Heat densities per square foot of processor rack increased more than an order of magnitude over the same period.
  • Data center energy and water efficiency has not kept up with processor efficiency, with serious availability and cost implications for data center operators.
  • Despite virtualization and consolidation, the physical installed server base (40 million servers in 2012) continues to grow, at a cost of $5 billion per year for energy and cooling.
  • Incentives to improve IT energy efficiency are often lacking, misaligned or at cross purposes.

In contrast, sophisticated power-management technologies, combined with best practices in server and network architectures, have achieved 85 percent reduction in power consumption.
Besides identifying trends and best practices, our study found an increasing number of new strategic decisions around improving data center energy efficiency as well as some pitfalls in the standard metrics for evaluating performance.
Strategic decisions
Cloud computing. The cloud is at the forefront of many data center infrastructure decisions today. The effort to ensure system availability (99.99 percent uptime) often results in a layer of standby infrastructure that significantly increases energy use. Through cloud service providers, companies can minimize such energy-intensive redundancies along with the cost of maintaining the equipment.
Turning to the cloud for storage solutions is another strategic decision that can result in energy efficiency. However, our study found trade-offs in storage energy consumption and the incremental energy required to transport and switch data in a cloud configuration. Cloud storage is superior to local storage only for files that are not constantly accessed by local applications.
Building a new data center. Several strategic considerations comprise decisions around building a new data center. One tactic to increase energy performance is to install a real-time thermal monitoring and control system to manage the higher raised floor temperature. Our Executive Guide includes tips for optimizing power distribution and managing airflow.
“Energy proportionality” is another strategy for optimizing a data center. Our study found that Google encourages all of its suppliers to produce components that operate efficiently whether they are idle, operating at full capacity or at lower usage levels.
Data center siting. More and more, companies are taking steps to reduce their long-term energy costs by building large data centers in locations with abundant renewable sources such hydropower and installed wind generation. Moreover, as the study points out, it will become increasingly important over the coming years for new data centers to align with regional and national efforts to move towards a carbon and water neutral energy grid.
Retrofitting an existing data center. Companies can achieve an effective green data center even if not constructing a new one. Our research looked at two case studies of results from retrofitting data centers. One resulted in $680,000 reduction per year in operating cost savings. The other achieved power cost reduction from $12 million to $4.5 million and cooling cost reduction from $7.2 million to $2.7 million. Our Executive Guide provides seven steps to green data center retrofitting.
Domain improvements. Our study found a number of strategic initiatives for implementing improvements in several data center domains. Network topology, which deploys virtual networking algorithms to improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption, is a very effective domain improvement in data centers. Virtualization is another example; but studies reveal that 50 percent of virtualization projects require a high level of coordinated planning and effort and another 25 percent are described as “challenging.”
The Executive Guide summarizes several improvement strategies and organizes the information in a way that is easily searchable by business executives. They can search by domain or by the level of effort (low investment/low disruption or high investment/high disruption).
Key metrics
Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and partial Power Usage Effectiveness (pPUE) are currently the standard metrics for evaluating data center performance. However, the Corporate Eco Forum study reveals that PUE fails to capture some fundamental IT infrastructure transformations because it is based on a view of the physical equipment (i.e., IT equipment, chillers) rather than a functional view (i.e., IT processing, cooling) of the data center.
Among other challenges, PUE calculations do not include cases where the power and cooling load associated with a stand¬alone server box prevent isolation. The effect of internalizing these cooling and power supply loads may actually increase PUE, even in cases where the overall data center energy demand may be lower.
Business executives need to be aware of new and refined metrics that are being developed to more accurately reflect the emerging energy usage patterns of data centers. The Executive Guide draws attention to two of the most important new metrics approaches currently being evaluated:

  • Data Center Performance Per Energy (DPPE), which evaluates efficiency as a composite of several data center aspects
  • The Green Grid Productivity Indicator, which combines the current DCiE metrics with utilization levels of several data center attributes.

Data center performance and investments are a key component of a company’s business strategies and sustainability. Our research and case studies strongly identify the need for decision makers to move out of their silos and collaborate on an effective communications approach and implementation process that ensures decisions around data center actions will result in cost savings and increased energy effectiveness. The plan also needs to incorporate how the company will monitor metrics and use new metrics approaches to ensure real-time data for troubleshooting.
The “Executive Guide: Best Practices for Leading Edge Data Centers” is written specifically for non-technical business executives as a comprehensive, easy-to-read description of the strategic considerations and best practice recommendations for data center decision making. It provides a roadmap for improving data center performance and sustainability while implementing continually evolving data center technologies.
Click here to download “Executive Guide: Best Practices for Leading Edge Data Centers.” The 49-page report includes case studies of data center improvements at such companies as Cisco, Deutsche Bank, eBay, FedEx, Google, IBM, Intel, Qualcomm, Sybase, Verizon and Walt Disney.
P. J. Simmons is chair at Corporate Eco Forum. He has worked for over 15 years as a trusted sustainability analyst, strategist, and bridge-builder. After serving as a researcher on environmental affairs at the National Security Council, he founded and directed the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change & Security Program, the Carnegie Endowment’s Managing Global Issues program, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s U.S. in the World program. He also directed the strategy practice at Saatchi & Saatchi S, advising companies on corporate-wide sustainability strategies. P.J. served twice as the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) deputy chair for Energy & Climate Change and remains an advisor to CGI on energy and environmental affairs.
Amy O’Meara is director of special initiatives for Corporate Eco Forum. She brings more than 10 years of experience in corporate sustainability and responsibility. Prior to CEF, she was a senior manager at the Clinton Global Initiative, advancing key environmental issues such as sustainable transportation, waste management, and clean energy. From 2003-2008 Amy worked at Amnesty International USA as Policy Director for Business and Human Rights.