Green data center market seen doubling by 2016

Energy costs, environmental concerns and the cloud computing transformation are inspiring more businesses -- including Microsoft -- to overhaul their hosting infrastructures.

Scads of money will be spent worldwide to make data centers greener over the next four years, to the tune of $45 billion by 2016, according to a new report by Pike Research.

That compares with just $17.1 billion in spending anticipated this year.

"There is not a single technology or design model that makes a data center green," said Eric Woods, research director at Pike Research. "In fact, the green data center is connected to the broader transformation that data centers are undergoing -- a transformation that encompasses technical innovation, operational improvements, new design principles, changes to the relationship betwen IT and business, and changes in the data center suppply chain."

One great example of the trend harbingered by this report is Microsoft, which just posted an update about some of the design changes and technology investments in data centers that are focused on supporting its more than 200 different online services. 

Echoing Facebook's disclosures about water usage in its data centers over the summer, Microsoft's utility architect Brian Janous with the Microsoft Data Center Advanced Development team reports that the company's latest air-cooled data centers in Iowa, Ireland, Virginia and Washington were designed to use 1 percent to 3 percent of the total water used by traditional data centers. In addition, there is no waste water associated with these facilities.

In July, Microsoft also moved to a model intended to make its individual business units think a lot more carefully about where they source their energy. For now, the company's quest to become carbon-neutral is being balanced by purchases of carbon offsets, but the company has been studying more sustainable energy sources.

Among those initiatives are a biomass generation project in Europe that will operate on waste fuel, combined heat and power technologies that capture waste heat for reuse, a fuel cell installation that would eliminate the need for back-up diesel generators, and one of the largest solar photovoltaic deployments in the southwestern United States.

"In addition to these projects, we are also seeking ways to more efficiently access the market for clean energy projects that meet our cost and carbon reduction goals," Janous wrote in the blog. "We have recently signed on as an advisory board member with Altenex, an operator of a network that enables member companies to more efficiently engage with developers of renewable energy projects. We expect this engagement with Altenex to improve our ability to identify and evaluate cost-effective clean energy projects."

More of Microsoft's suggested best practices for helping make a data center more sustainable can be found in a white paper it published a few months ago.

Another company you might want to study as an example of green data center design is Internap Network Services, which just earned a LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its data center in Dallas. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) Earlier this year, the company earned a Silver certification for its Santa Clara, Calif., facility.

Here are some of the factors that influenced the Gold rating:

- Water conservation measures; the data center uses 40 percent less potable water than what is suggested as an ideal level by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASRAE).

- The decision to opt for Energy Star appliances, computers, monitors and printers for about 90 percent of the technologies used on the site. The building requires about 27 percent less electricity for lighting than other data centers like it.

- Access to public transportation, so that the people working in the data center can get there without having to use their own vehicles.

- A commitment to recycled materials: about 20 percent of the building materials were recycled from previous uses; likewise about 85 percent of the waste created during construction was diverted from landfill.