Facebook, Google and Yahoo: Building Efficient Data Centers
Data centers house information technology equipment, such as any computer system and associated components required to keep a website functioning. Anytime you GChat, Like a company on Facebook, make a mention on Twitter, or post an article to your blog --in short, anytime you use the internet-- your web device communicates with a data center.
Energy Use in our Data Centers
Not too surprisingly, all this communication requires an extraordinary amount of electricity. This cut out from a longer infographic illustrates their impact:
The upside to all this energy use is that changes to these data centers can create huge results. For instance, according to an article at Reuters.com, through energy efficiency measures, Google is able to use less than one percent of electricity used by the world's data centers, even though it is responsible for 2.8% of the world's server volume.
Facebook, Yahoo and many other companies are taking similar steps, which is important considering that "the energy demands of the internet are increasing by 10% each year."
Building Efficient Data Centers
Data center efficiency is measured using Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). This rating compares total energy entering the data center to the power used by the equipment, so a PUE of 1 is ideal.
For the record, Google's data centers, which are highly efficient, boast a PUE of around 1.16 and the average data center PUE is around 2.
There are a number of ways data centers can increase efficiency:
Individual companies, fueled by both environmental and financial concerns, are taking further steps to increase efficiency:
Google employs an on-board, lead-acid battery for its backup power system. As compared to the typical, centralized back up system used by most companies, using the on-board system can lead to an efficiency of 99.9%, most of which is because the "electricity doesn’t have to be converted between a central backup unit and the servers."
Facebook has recently launched the Open Compute Facebook Project, with the goal to build data centers that are 38% more efficient and 24% less expensive to build. Facebook will make these technologies public with the goal of improving server efficiency everywhere.
Yahoo has introduced a new facility design which has been termed the "Computing Coop." This innovative structure earns its name from its chicken coop-like appearance and uses outside air to cool the company's servers, eliminating the need for chillers. This modification is expected to create a PUE of 1.1, but many think it will be even more efficient.
The Development of an Energy Standard
This past May, Energy Star announced a data center certification program. The standard consists of three guiding principles which all servers must meet. These principles are designed "to help the industry have a common understanding of energy efficiency metrics that can generate dialogue to improve data center efficiencies and reduce energy consumption" (Energy Star). In other words, Energy Star is trying to establish a common benchmark for data center efficiency, and maybe then create a strict standard.
While this is a step in the right direction, the requirements are receiving many critiques. The main issue is that the standard focuses on the power supply, but not the overall efficiency of the server. Austin Hipes, vice president of technology at Network Engines Inc explains, "What it doesn't tell you today is what type of workload you can do for each unit of energy consumed."
Though we typically think of the paperless internet often as a way to save paper and go green, the energy and components required for our browsing sum up to have a large impact on our environment. It's great news that web-based companies are moving towards greening their technologies, and hopefully the financial incentive to do so will push the rest in a similar direction.