Real Time Communications Featured Article

Sustainable Development & Network Transformation - Greening the Infrastructure

October 17, 2014

Data centers, mobile devices, and networks allow people to connect with one another and share information more easily between cubicles, neighborhoods, or even far-flung areas of the world. And while that may lower travel requirements, resulting in saved travel costs and lower carbon emissions, it’s no secret that the data centers, devices, and networks that can lead to reduced travel are themselves quite unfriendly to the environment.

Discarded devices are increasingly populating the world’s garbage barges and landfills, although some companies are taking a small bite out of the heap by introducing device recycling initiatives. And energy-loving data centers and networks mean high power costs for their operators, and significant environmental impacts for the world’s citizenry.

The fact that data centers are energy hogs came to the industry’s collective consciousness several years ago when the Environmental Protection Agency put a spotlight on this problem. In 2007, the EPA issued a report saying that energy use at data centers doubled between 2000 and 2006 and was poised to double again in 2011. The EPA said U.S. data centers at the time consumed 1.5 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2006 and prophetically noted that their appetite for power would only continue to grow as more applications, devices, and users came online.

The federal government and industry groups have made some effort to address that by working on guidelines and rules for more efficient energy usage, but it’s been slow going.

The U.S. House of Representatives in March passed H.R. 2126, which includes the Energy Efficient Government Technology Act, requiring the use of energy efficient and energy reduction technologies by U.S. data centers, especially those used by the federal government.

And an industry consortium called The Green Grid Association has issued carbon, power, and water usage effectiveness metrics; suggested utility incentives be put in place for data centers; and other otherwise been working to educate data center operators on how to more efficiently run things so they can save money on their energy bills and lower their environmental footprints.

“The concept of utility incentives designed specifically for data centers is still a fairly new one. Many data center owners and operators may not be aware of the resources currently invested by utility companies to help promote energy efficiency. And, without adequate participation from them and from more utilities investing in targeted incentive programs for this growing industry, the potential energy and cost efficiencies will not be realized,” said Chris Molloy, distinguished engineer in the Global Technology Services organization at IBM and member of the board of directors for The Green Grid Association.

“In researching utility energy efficiency incentive programs targeting the data center sector, we found that while individual utilities have studied the effectiveness of their own programs, no quantitative industry-wide investigation had been done,” added Corban Lester, program development manager at Lockheed Martin and Utility Task Force leader for The Green Grid Association. “Results of our research indicate that the biggest opportunity for improvement with utility IT incentive programs lies in market awareness, followed by simplification and streamlining of application processes.”

While industry groups and the government are trying to work out how to put wide-ranging rules in place to encourage more sustainable data center models, individual companies and partnerships are moving forward with solutions that address energy efficiency today.

Aligned Energy is one such company. Jakob Carnemark, CEO of Aligned Energy, said most businesses today spend around $1 per kiloWatt hour powering and cooling their equipment, but with more efficient data center architectures they could bring it down to the 25 to 30 cents per kiloWatt hour range.

Given growing uptake in cloud services, which create greater variability in energy usage, now is a great time for network operators to take a look at how they can make their facilities more cost- and energy-efficient, said Carnemark. That’s because traditional chiller plants don’t like variable loads, and Aligned Energy has developed a solution that is stable and efficient with variable loads.

Aligned Energy’s Energy Metrics Division provides software to enable businesses to look at their applications and correlate the energy required to support them. It provides all that information via a single pane of glass. Royal Bank of Canada is among the customers of Energy Metrics. Aligned Energy’s Inertech division is focused on new electrical and mechanical technologies. In 2010 the company patented Conductive Cooling, which lowers data center energy use for cooling by 90 percent and for water by 85 percent. Several large telcos, banks, and other organizations are now using this solution, which consists of a heat sync edge device at the rack, and a thermal hub that replaces a traditional thermal plant/chiller. Carnemark said users can deploy the chiller in a modular way as needed, adjusting for density rather than overbuilding or guessing about what they’ll need. The company also has a professional services division, called Karbon.

Carnemark spoke with Real Time Communications World at the recent GENBAND Perspectives14 event, where GENBAND President and CEO David Walsh talked about how his company is helping transition carriers to new networks that use less energy, and are distributed so don’t have to be overbuilt. Moving away from the PSTN and leveraging newer, more efficient infrastructure, he said, could reduce energy and water usage costs by 70 percent, real estate costs by 85 percent, and CO2 emissions by 40 percent.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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