Which has a larger carbon footprint: your neighbor's gas guzzling SUV or the server in your machine room? The answer might surprise you. In a recent report from the Global Action Plan, the average server has a larger annual carbon footprint than an SUV getting 15 MPG. Information technology accounts for about the same percentage of worldwide carbon emissions (3%) as the airline industry, which gets beat up regularly for it's role in global warming.
This won't come as a surprise to data center managers. As I reported a few years ago data center power requirements have increased seven fold (20W/sq. foot to 140W/sq. foot) over the last seven years.
Of course, that just implies denser servers, but we have more of them as well. I was just listening to a podcast from Supernova where Greg Papadopoulos remarked that we used to think of hundreds of server as a big system, but now clusters of tens of thousands are not unheard of.
There are several ways to cut power consumption. Virtualization allows lightly utilized hardware to be put to better use. Blade systems use less power (approximately 20%) than a comparable set of pizza box CPUs. Even more efficient cooling techniques can save power since a lot of power in data centers is used to remove heat.
One of the most promising technologies is whole datacenter DC power distribution. I just saw that Validus DC Systems announced today that it has raised $10 million from Oak Hill Venture Partners to further develop its data center power supplies that use direct current (DC). This isn't a point solution: it requires that servers and other gear be converted to run on DC power.
Still the benefits are pretty big: estimates are the using DC power in the data center would reduce power consumption by between 15 and 40%. The reason is simple thermodynamics: every conversion from AC to DC or DC to AC results in power being lost to heat. In a traditional data center, power gets converted back and forth several times. In a DC data center, the conversion happens once--when it enters the building.
Better data center utilization, better uptime and reliability, and money savings are all available with DC power. Even so, most companies don't seem to be paying attention. A recent Forrester Research survey found that few of the 130 companies polled had a comprehensive plan for saving energy in the IT department.