Energy Continues to be a Growing Problem for Data Centers

Posted by Instor on Jan 18, 2018 9:00:00 AM

There’s no doubt that cloud is king and the expansion continues into a new year. Revenue has doubled in 2017 compared to 2013 and there appears to be no slowing the growth and expansion of IT infrastructure – this included server, storage, compute platforms, and Ethernet switching equipment that reached $11.3bn or 26.3 percent year-on-year during the third quarter of 2017.



Image: Pixabay


Challenge: How to Power All That IT Equipment

According to the IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Cloud IT Infrastructure Tracker®, the growth drivers were fueled by hyperscale, public cloud lower tiers (68.0 percent), and private clouds globally. Some predict that as data continues to grow, that cloud providers will triple into the next two years with data center space availability will struggle to keep up with demands. Building on this news is the JLL U.S. Data Center Outlook (2017) which carefully monitors market indicators including the cost and oversight reductions for the data center industry, IoT which is pumping volumes of data, and the surging hybrid cloud and hyperscale demand. Some additional market drivers include device-based processing improvements, edge devices and fog computing, IoT, crypto currencies including cloud-based solutions, on-premise workload migrations, cloud architecture changes for latency reduction, AI, ML, robotics, and autonomous cars.

Cloud adoption continues an increasing momentum and the hyperscale data center market is poised to expand as projected for the next four years – Allied Market Research’ Hyperscale Data Center Market Report estimates the market to reach $71 billion by 2022. Market leaders continue to include Amazon, Facebook, Google, and others with wide adoption and bold investments from the small, server nodes to high end computing, network, and storage solutions. 

One area of major concern is how to electrically power all of the equipment and data centers. Google has become one of the leaders in the deployment of renewable energy that primarily includes solar and wind-based technologies.  

Energy consumption has continued to be challenging not only with the energy industries but more so for data center operations. There have been gains made over the past few years including development of the ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 90.4-2016, Energy Standard for Data Centers, regarding data center energy efficiency requirements for design and construction. Additionally, many efforts continue with innovation to reduce costs while improving energy efficiencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge which focuses on integrating energy savings into building operations.

Some means to increase energy efficiency include improved lighting, energy-efficient cooling, server reduction, and hyperscale which focus on maximizing server utilization. To better understand how much energy is being consumed, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) will be conducting another Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBESC) for 2018 similarly to one conducted in 2012 which resulted in high energy intensity for data centers located in office buildings contrasted to those without a data center – the data centers had significantly higher energy consumption per square foot resulting in as much as 100 to 200 times greater than those without – the environmental footprint is much greater than in past years.

Putting it all in perspective, energy consumption has and always will be challenging not because of silicon densities to create greater computer power but because of the insatiable appetite for data – both processing and storage. A 2016 U.S. DoE Data Center Energy Usage Report estimated that 70 billion kWh were consumed in 2014 or 1.8 percent of the total U.S. electricity capacity. As technology increases in capability, the consumption will decrease – this is commonly referred to as the Jevons paradox but this dichotomy results in lower costs but greater demands. Energy is the linchpin that sustains and is the catalyst for innovation and increased data center efficiencies – other factors that could serve to undermine the availability of energy are cyber attacks, man-made causes (e.g., electromagnetic pulse – EMP), natural causes due to extreme weather, general outages, and solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Global power generation cannot be sustained with the demands that have yet to come - external demands most recently seem to be encroaching on the energy supply such as cryptocurrencies.

The most profound, aside from other causes from the loss of energy capacity, comes from the fact that 94.7 percent of new electrical capacity came from solar and wind power in 2017 according to the EIA and that energy from fossil fuels has begun to diminish despite efforts by the Trump administration to propel the coal industry. Perhaps there are some alternatives including leveraging the inevitable confluence between the utilities and data centers through the form of cooperative agreements and purchase agreements to include greater deployment of green energies.