Microsoft improves data center efficiency
Wednesday, Mar 27th 2013

Operating a data center can be an expensive business proposition. After the costs of building construction, equipment installation and staff recruitment, companies still need to cover the expense of a potentially astronomical electric bill each month. IDC has estimated that data center operators spend 66 cents on power and cooling needs for each dollar spent on hardware upgrades.

Wasteful operating practices have contributed to the high cost of providing electricity to data centers. The New York Times has estimated that, because some companies keep their servers running at maximum capacity and have air conditioning units continuously holding server room temperatures at ideal levels to prevent machines from overheating, data centers can waste upwards of 90 percent of the energy they consume. Across the globe, these facilities may use approximately 30 billion watts of electricity.

Free air tech cuts down on wasteful practices
To drive down costs and decrease their facilities' environmental footprint, many companies have been pursuing methods to make their data centers more energy efficient. Microsoft has been a major proponent of discovering new ways to reduce their facilities' consumption of electricity. In 2009, it unveiled a 550,000 square feet open air facility in Dublin that used free cooling technology in the place of standard data center technology to prevent servers from overheating. By using outside air instead of refrigerated water to cool down server rooms, companies can significantly reduce the amount of electricity needed to run their data centers. In addition, free cooling technology has allowed Microsoft to consume less than one percent of the water that traditional data centers use.

As operators became more familiar with the free cooling technology over the years, they have been able to improve the facility's energy consumption rates. When the data center first became went online, its Power Usage Effectiveness was 1.24, but that has been lowered to 1.17, according to the latest figures. The company had initially installed backup cooling devices in the event that the free-cooling system failed, but that contingency plan proved to be unnecessary. Because of Dublin's cool climate, server room temperatures have never reached at-risk levels.

Alternatives to expensive overhauls
Unfortunately, free cooling technology is not a viable option for every data center operator. The cost of building a new structure in an entirely new location would simply be too much for most companies to consider. To reduce wasteful energy consumption practices and increase savings on power usage, data center operators may want to consider installing server room environmental monitoring equipment. By tracking a building's internal temperature and only initiating cooling measures when necessary, businesses can ensure that they are running their data centers as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible without a major investment of resources.