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By Abigail Gray
September 2005 -
As complex as they are critical, data centers and telecommunications switching rooms present a range of challenges for facility executives. Not least among these is the delicate balancing act of ensuring reliability without letting energy costs balloon.
Data centers and telecommunications switching rooms, known as central offices to those in the industry, provide mission-critical support to the daily operations of all kinds of organizations. Telecom central offices provide the IT infrastructure that is mission-critical for telephone companies, Internet service providers and other organizations in the communication industry. Data centers process and store electronic information, images, files and correspondence — a function that is increasingly critical with the passage of laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which require increased data storage and management by companies across industry sectors. Those laws are prompting organizations to build or expand data centers.
Because even a few minutes of downtime can jeopardize an organization’s operations significantly, data centers and central offices must be highly reliable. But these spaces also use lots of energy. Depending on the size of the space and the age and type of equipment it contains, energy consumption typically ranges from 20 to 100 watts per square feet. Newer servers, while smaller and more powerful, consume more energy; therefore, some high-end facilities with state-of-the-art technology guzzle up to 400 watts per square foot. In short, these spaces consume many times more energy than office facilities of equivalent size.
Up to 75 percent of this energy feeds power-hungry servers and other IT equipment. The remainder — roughly 25 percent — results primarily from the operation of mechanical and electrical systems that keep the lights on and, above all, keep the IT equipment cool. Smaller, more powerful IT equipment is considerably hotter than older systems, making heat management a major challenge.
“Thermal management is really the biggest issue at the moment,” says Magnus Herrlin, principal, ANCIS Inc. “There’s too much hot equipment in these spaces. It’s leading to failures.”
For a facility executive, the risk of a shutdown is nothing short of terrifying. As a result, says Stuart Brodsky, national
program manager, commercial property markets with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program, facility executives tend to shelve most concerns about energy efficiency for fear of compromising reliability.
“It is very clear that the mandate to reduce risk of equipment failure results in high energy costs for cooling equipment,” he says.
According to Brodsky and other experts, however, the reality of the situation is far more nuanced than a black-and-white choice between efficiency and reliability. And the prevalence of several widespread myths and misconceptions is contributing to the sense that facility executives must give up all thought of efficiency to ensure reliability.
Nothing can be done about high energy consumption in data centers and telecom central offices.
Energy-efficiency measures compromise reliability.
There is no such thing as “cool enough.”
A data center or telecom central office is no place for non-traditional approaches to cooling.
It’s impossible to trim the energy consumption of IT equipment.