Power plays: how enterprises can combat soaring energy bills

By Graeme Burton
05 Sep 2012 View Comments
electricity station

For the past six years, energy prices have fluctuated sharply, especially during colder winter months when demand spikes. But the long-term trend is clear: prices have doubled since 2006 and will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. This increase in power costs has coincided with escalating business demands on datacentres, according to analysts Robert Frances Group, forcing companies to stuff more kit into their datacentres, often with energy consumption an afterthought.

Further reading

But with energy prices going up and datacentres now a significant “cost centre” in many organisations’ infrastructure, CIOs have had to take a much closer interest in how their datacentres are built, run and maintained in order to control power costs.

Indeed, according to analysts IDC, the world’s servers consume some $44.5bn of electricity every year. That compares to a global server market estimated to be worth just $9bn by comparison. In other words, companies are spending more than four times as much on running their servers as they are buying them.

Doing it right

Ever-rising power costs have certainly concentrated minds. But whereas just five or six years ago the focus was on the bill, today the emphasis is very much on cutting costs, as always, but also improving the use of assets and increasing overall efficiency, says Chris Scott, European datacentre site and facilities services area leader for IBM.

“The old way to do it was to build a great, big room and fill it with stuff. Then, when it was full, build a new one and fill that up, too,” says Scott. Air conditioning would also be cranked up to minimise the risk of parts failing due to excess heat – and all the aggravation that locating the failed part and replacing it would entail.

Now, though, the datacentre has become the critical focus of money-saving attention from the top down. “Organisations are starting to consider the cost of energy across many dimensions, including infrastructure, the fabric of the datacentre, the kind of structures and implementations used with it, the degree of automation and also the source of power – what kind of deal the company has,” says Ian Brooks, European head of innovation and sustainable computing at HP.

Indeed, there are a number of factors that drive up the energy costs of running a datacentre. “A datacentre consumes energy in terms of lighting, power distribution, humidification, chilling and its power backup system, such as an uninterruptable power supply,” says Steve Weiner, head of datacentre offerings at Fujitsu.

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