Avoid 'green fatigue' with data center monitoring
Friday, May 17th 2013

Energy efficiency may be a mantra in discussions in the data center world, but enthusiasm for improving efficiency appears to be waning, according to a recent Uptime Institute study. The industry organization noted that smaller data centers in particular are losing their interest in making efficiency improvements, likely discouraged by the success of large enterprises with more resources. Although they may not be able to keep up with these firms in terms of major capital improvements, smaller data centers can continue to make progress by using data center monitoring to optimize cooling.

According to the Uptime Institute study, which surveyed data center operators around the world, only 50 percent of North American respondents said they considered energy efficiency to be very important to their company. This share was a decrease from 52 percent last year and 58 percent in 2011. The most significant decline was at smaller data centers, which tend to have fewer resources to devote to efficiency improvements, according to Matt Stansberry, Uptime Institute's director of content and publications.

"A lot of these green initiatives, like raising server inlet temperatures and installing variable-speed fans, are seen as somewhat risky, and they're not something you do unless you have a bunch of engineers on staff," he told IDG News Service.

Catching the leaders
Furthermore, many smaller data centers may feel discouraged as they witness the newsmaking efficiency improvements of companies like Google and Facebook, Stansberry noted. While companies with more than 5,000 servers are more likely to have invested in new infrastructure, smaller companies are focused simply on maintaining their facilities, as they may see less incentive to go green or have fewer ways to do so.

"I don't really think that half the data centers in the U.S. aren't focused on energy efficiency, I think they're just sick of hearing about it," Stansberry told IDG News. "You've got all these big companies with brilliant engineers and scads of money, and then there's some guy with a bunch of old hardware sitting around thinking, What the hell am I supposed to do?"

Leveraging temperature sensors
Small data centers may not have the capability to make improvements like installing a next-generation liquid cooling system or utilizing new, low-energy server hardware, but they can make some simpler changes that are within a more reasonable budget. By implementing a hot aisle/cold aisle configuration and increasing cold aisle inlet temperatures, data centers can substantially improve efficiency. However, doing so can create new problems without proper temperature monitoring, IT Business Edge contributor and energy management CTO Clemens Pfeiffer wrote.

"Hot/cold aisle configurations can create hot spots that waste power and cause outages," Pfeiffer explained. "Balancing the equipment, and then calibrating and continuously monitoring the cold aisle temperature maximizes cooling efficiency and minimizes problems."

Using tools such as temperature sensors from ITWatchDogs, data center operators can closely track performance of such initiatives and improve efficiency without making massive investments. Although they may not have the resources or staff to maintain the same level of oversight as Facebook or Google, smaller data centers do not need to give up on energy efficiency improvements altogether. With data center monitoring tools, they can keep track of performance and continue to make changes.