Efficiency Measures Could Cut Data Center, Server Energy Use by Half

Data Center
Data centers used more than twice as much energy in 2006 as they did in 2000.
Photo by skreuzer via Flickr

Data centers—large facilities that house electronic equipment to run websites, monitor Internet traffic, and store and process data—can consume more than 40 times the energy of similarly sized office spaces, according to a new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2006, servers and data centers in the United States used 61 billion kilowatt-hours of power, representing 1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption, or the equivalent of 5.8 million average U.S. homes. This was more than twice the amount used for the same purpose in 2000, and the figure is projected to nearly double again by 2011 if current trends continue.

Data centers are found in nearly every sector of the economy, from financial services and the media to the high-tech industry, universities, and government institutions. With a single facility housing hundreds or even thousands of computer servers, storage devices, and network devices, the rate of growth in the centers’ energy use is alarming, the EPA concludes. According to the agency, the power and cooling infrastructure required to keep IT equipment operating alone accounts for half of the centers’ total energy consumption. Servers and data centers run by the U.S. federal government were responsible for approximately 10 percent of the centers’ total electricity use in 2006.

Much of this energy use could be prevented through greater use of energy efficiency and power management tools, the report notes. For instance, making relatively minor, low-cost tweaks to software and airflow management could improve the efficiency of the data centers by more than 20 percent relative to current trends by 2011. Overall, adopting the most state-of-the-art technologies as well as “aggressive” energy-saving techniques could result in a maximum of 55 percent energy reduction by 2011, the EPA notes.

Businesses, governments, and other institutions have a variety of incentives to improve the efficiency of their data centers. In a recent article, the Denver Post points to the good public relations benefits of reducing energy consumption. But there are economic considerations as well. The EPA study, for example, concludes that data centers in the United States have the potential to save up to $4 billion in annual electricity costs through more energy-efficient equipment and operations and the broad implementation of best management practices.

In February of this year, chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) published its own study on the energy consumption of data centers, largely in response to concerns among corporate consumers about rising energy bills, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “[Customers] are starting to max out their power budgets,” said John Fruehe, a development manager at AMD. “Everything that’s involved in this is looking at the bottom line.”

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.