Air-conditioning bills can really add up.
As the federal government looks for energy savings by consolidating its more than 2,000 data centers, companies are developing techniques to save on one of the highest costs associated with data centers — cooling them.
Gary Forbes, power and cooling specialist with technology company CDW-G, said that in traditional data centers, the exhaust from servers causes areas farthest from them to be cooled while areas closest to the servers remain warm.
"Bringing air conditioners and air handlers closer to the loads are the most notable trend in squeezing energy savings out of existing facilities," Forbes said. New cooling technology cools servers directly in a process called "in-row cooling."
An added benefit is that the air conditioners don't have to pump out air as cold as it had to be, saving energy and increasing efficiency.
Increasing energy efficiency is a top concern of 40 percent of federal information technology managers surveyed, according to CDW-G's 2010 Energy Efficient IT Report. And 64 percent saw energy efficiency as the primary driver of data center consolidation efforts. Data center power consumption accounts for about 1.5 percent of electricity consumption in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Treasury inspector general for tax administration reported in June that the IRS could save about $3.1 million over four years by implementing better cooling methods at two of its data centers. Between 30 percent and 60 percent of a data center's power consumption comes from cooling systems, the report said.
Steve Foley, head of data storage company 3Par's federal division, said his company's technology helps cut energy costs in a couple of ways:
• Instead of a traditional arrangement of storage server drives lined up singly in a row, drives are built to be arranged more than four deep with air moving from back to front. The space is then easier and cheaper to cool.
• Storage servers are built to be more efficient. Moving data to more efficient servers cuts the number that need to be cooled.
3Par's technology doubles the efficiency of data centers, reducing cooling costs by half, Foley said.
According to 3Par, 14 agencies are installing its technology this spring for an expected energy savings of $4.2 million over the next four years.
Another technique aims to increase efficiency: Pentair Technical Products has produced a storage cabinet that segregates hot and cold air, so hot air is vented out and servers are cooled with a minimum of cold air.