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HP makes data centers green

Kosik knows a thing or two about building efficient data centers. As managing principal of consultancy EYP Mission Critical Facilities in Chicago, Kosik helped HP plan its global project to consolidate 85 data centers into just six.

HP liked EYP's work so much that it decided to buy the consulting firm a year ago, transforming it into a new Critical Facilities Services division that helps HP clients plan the building of energy efficient data centers or retrofit existing ones. Financial institutions are particularly interested in reducing energy use, as data centers can use 30% of an organization's energy even while taking up just 5% of its square footage, Kosik says. Retrofitting existing data centers is often worthwhile but extremely difficult, he adds.

“It's expensive and you can't turn the thing off. You're basically doing open heart surgery on a patient that's running around the block,” Kosik says.

Going after low-hanging fruit can sometimes have a big impact, though. Kosik notes that many data centers waste power simply by keeping the thermostat too low.

“In traditional data centers, you walk into them and they're like refrigerators,” he says. “That's really not the way to do it. If we raise that temperature five of 10 degrees you could save easily close to 40% on power for your cooling systems. Climate has a huge impact on data centers.”

Efficient power distribution systems are vital as well. More than 10% of a power supply can dissipate while it travels from the edge of a building to its destined target inside the data center, according to Kosik.

“It's not sexy stuff, but it makes a big difference,” Kosik says. “Right now, there's huge momentum in the industry to push energy efficiency, but from a more pragmatic standpoint.”

In many cases, retrofitting isn't feasible from a financial perspective, and it's better to build a data center from scratch. In addition to helping HP plan two new U.S.-based data centers as part of the 85-to-6 consolidation, EYP has provided consulting services to many of the world's top financial institutions, major Internet and software companies, and high-performance computing centers.

A 1-megawatt data center's energy needs can reach US$2 million a year, Kosik says, adding that some of the bigger Internet companies need data centers of 20 to 30 megawatts.

Many data centers are burdened with out-of-date servers, power supplies and building designs, notes Mark Linesch, vice president of marketing for an HP software division that focuses on managing and automating use of servers and storage. (Compare server products.)

“You could walk across a data center and see half-empty racks, and yet you're out of power,” he says.

Besides using old equipment, data centers often waste energy by over-provisioning power, giving a particular system more electricity than it really needs, according to Linesch.

HP this month announced new technologies that measure and control power and cooling systems, while placing limits on power used. The idea is to identify how much power is needed to run each server and set limits based on the actual usage.

More intelligent use of water for cooling systems also is important, Kosik says. For some large data centers, getting enough water from public sources is challenging, so they build their own wells.

“We're working on projects lately where they have the power, but they don't have the water,” Kosik says. “We're looking at on-site wells and running new water and sanitary lines that are basically big enough for a small city.”

EYP has about 400 employees, including about 50 consultants and 250 people in design and engineering, Kosik says. Linesch says buying EYP was a natural choice for HP. The new division's consultants can provide a comprehensive assessment of a customer's data center, identifying areas where money can be saved by being more efficient. Then HP comes in with equipment, infrastructure designs and data center management software to help eliminate problem areas, he says.

Data centers can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes even millions, by using more efficient servers and power supplies, and by not over-provisioning power to each server, Linesch says.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning to develop an Energy Star rating for data centers, a lack of a real benchmark today makes it hard for data center operators to judge their level of efficiency, Kosik says.

“Utilization of power is probably worse than a lot of people think,” he says.

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