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Energy Efficiency Initiatives in U.S. Data Centers Delivering Great Results

July 06, 2016

Data centers are now a critical piece of our infrastructure responsible for the backbone of the digital ecosystem we live in. And as new digital technologies continue to develop, our reliance on data centers will continue to grow. This means building more data centers with hyper- scale capacities operating 24/7, and consuming large amounts of electricity.

The new "United States Data Center Energy Usage Report," which was supported by the Federal Energy Management Program of the U.S. Department of Energy under Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Contract, highlights the energy needs of data centers and the continual improvement the industry has made in being more efficient.

According to the report, data centers consumed around 70 billion kWh in 2014, which makes up close to 1.8 percent of the total US electricity consumption. While that is a staggering amount, the increase from 2010-2014 was only about 4 percent. This was achieved through a concerted effort from the industry by introducing a wide range of measures to make data centers more efficient.

When you compare the data from the previous 15 years, these measures have delivered impressive results. The report revealed from 2005-2010 there was a 24-percent increase, and from 2000-2005 the increase was close to 90 percent.

The researchers of the report created a counterfactual scenario to estimate what the data center energy consumption would've been if the energy-saving efforts were frozen in 2010. They concluded the resulting electricity demand would require more than 600 additional billion kilowatt hours across the decade. As it stands now, by 2020 the energy required to power data centers in the U.S. will be less than the 73 billion kWh demand projected in 2020.

These numbers are even more impressive when you take into account the growing demand data centers are facing. Cloud technology, hosted solutions, streaming services and mobile access are just some of the many solutions currently demanding data center services. When 5G networks are fully deployed and the Internet of Things (IoT) introduces billions of devices into the ecosystem, it will require additional demand from data centers.

The researchers of the report said, "Many factors contribute to the overall energy trends found in this report, though the most conspicuous change may be the reduced growth in the number of servers operating in data centers… the power demand for each server has also changed."

The overall efficiency has been achieved by making smart decisions, which now starts with the construction of the data center and extends to every process in the operations of the facility.

There is no denying data centers have made improvements, but the amount of electricity they consume costs them $7 billion annually and is responsible for 50 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.

The report makes the case for using technologies that already exist to further cut data center energy waste by up to 45 percent by 2020, which would also save the industry more than $3 billion annually. This includes lowering electricity use when servers are not being used, idle or lightly used, as well as mothballing zombie servers, merging lightly used servers through virtualization and placing idle servers on lower-power sleep mode.

The steps data centers have taken to save energy have been successful, but as massively large data centers come online, it is that much more important to implement these and other efficiency measures.

Edited by Alicia Young

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