How building a greener data center in cold climates can reduce costs

Cutting data center costs is one of the many topics that put IT departments under pressure. Infrastructure consolidation, OS and application rationalization, and virtualization and green IT are the main three areas IT teams attack when planning on tightening the budget.

None can be achieved without capital investment. However, the return on investment (ROI) generated from the operational cost in annual savings added to the countless business benefits make it easy to mitigate the outlay.

Building a greener datacenter

Greener data centers that don't need mechanical refrigeration can return great savings after the investment. This, in combination with data center automation and virtualization can be a powerful formula to dramatically reduce costs whilst improving enterprise efficiency.

The Northern Hemisphere, with its midnight sun in summer and long nights in winter, has lured companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook to build their data centers in cold weathers. Reasons for doing this include cutting power and cooling costs.

The Nordic countries have very reliable, clean, low-cost power which has a low-carbon content. In Iceland, thermal energy is reliable, low-cost, and green.

"Sweden has one of the cleanest, most affordable, and secure electricity grids in any industrialized country. The average carbon emissions per kWh of electricity produced have been roughly 20 grams. If the world's energy would be produced as cleanly as Swedish electricity, the climate change problem would be well on its way to be solved," says Rauli Partanen, an independent author and communicator on energy, and co-founder and vice-chair of the Ecomodernist Society of Finland, a new environmental NGO.

Building a data center in the cold allows data center operators to achieve a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating as close to 1 as possible. PUE measures the ratio of power being consumed by a data center to the percentage of the power that is being delivered to computing equipment.

Data centers that use cooling technologies are cheaper, more efficient, and more sustainable than traditional ones which rely on mechanical cooling.

A recent initiative, the White Data Center Project in Japan, might become the model for the data center of the future. The sustainability test site was built on Hokkaido, Japan's northern island. The data center uses snow cooling in summer and vents off heat in the winter into greenhouses.

The project holds a five-year grant issued by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a Japanese governmental R&D organization that wants to investigate how snow removed from urban areas could potentially be used cool a data center.

Preliminary results estimate that this data center model could improve HVAC charges in approximately 80 percent less than a traditional data center and 54 percent less than a data center with centrifugal chillers.

The White Datacenter Project's site, which is based in the Sorachi Industrial Park in Bibai, could attract several global companies to set up their more sustainable data centers in a near future.

Susan Fourtané is a Science & Technology Journalist who has been writing and reporting on business IT for global publications for nearly 10 years. Susan frequently attends technology events in Europe, being at the heart of new research, and innovation. Find her on Twitter @SusanFourtane.



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