How to Make Your Data Center Green

Greening one's data center is a strategy that enables an enterprise to improve profitability while reducing expenses, contribute positively to the overall community and be better positioned in the global information economy. Knowledge Center contributor Peter Melerud explains how to green the data center in your enterprise.


From automobiles to cleaning products and everything in between, products are being sold based on their green characteristics. It's to the point where business-to-business purchasers and consumers may no longer believe that these products are truly green and it's just marketing hype.

In the IT space, green means improved energy efficiency with minimal environmental impact. Greening one's data center is a cost-saver in the long run, as older products are replaced with more energy-efficient models, and budget issues are always of primary concern to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). With the high cost of electricity and oil, reducing energy use becomes even more important. SMBs have the same green requirements as larger businesses, but generally with lower budgets.

Environment impacted by data center growth

The Green IT movement is being driven by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was mandated by Congress in December 2006 to conduct a study of the rapid growth and energy consumption of data centers. The EPA defines data centers as "facilities that contain IT equipment (computing, networking and data storage equipment), as well as power and cooling infrastructure." The report continues, "A data center contains primarily electronic equipment used for data processing (servers), data storage (storage equipment) and communications (network equipment)."

The June 2007 report explained that the "U.S. data center industry's growth has been stimulated by the increased use of electronic transactions such as online banking and electronic trading, the growing use of Internet communication and entertainment, the shift to electronic medical records for healthcare, the growth in global commerce and services, the adoption of satellite navigation and electronic shipment tracking in transportation, and the use of the Internet to publish government information." The downside to this growth includes increased energy costs for businesses, strain on the power grid, increased greenhouse gases and increased capital costs for datacenter construction and expansion.

Energy consumption and the data center

The study also notes that data centers in themselves have a certain degree of environmental friendliness because they improve energy efficiency throughout the economy (by contributing to telecommuting, e-commerce and similar industries and applications that reduce transportation and building energy use). For example, instead of driving from store to store, consumers will let their fingers do the walking across their computer keyboards. Direct energy consumption in the data center, however, is significant and SMBs need to pursue greater energy efficiency along with performance.

Energy costs are the second largest expense in a data center, behind only labor costs. The EPA data shows that data centers use 1.5 percent of all electricity consumption in the United States, which equated to 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) and $4.5 billion in 2006. It also equals the energy required to keep all the televisions running in the country. Moreover, data centers have a larger carbon footprint than airplanes.

The electrical consumption figure has doubled since 2000 and emissions are extremely high. In 2000, the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the EPA's ENERGY STAR program estimated data center electricity cost at $1.37 billion. They forecast that it will grow to $7.68 billion by 2010, which may range from 15 to 40 times the annual energy costs of a typical office-with an average facility consuming anywhere from 1 to 20 megawatts of power. Half of all data centers have insufficient power and cooling capacity and require renovation.