Google: No Magic Needed for Greener Data Centers

While Google (s GOOG) has been at the forefront of cutting edge green data center technology, with more experimental projects like its seawater-cooled data center, Google’s big message at its second data center efficiency summit: There’s no magic involved with greener data centers, and the tech is attainable by any IT manager. It’s an important thesis, as Google says that the majority of energy going to power data centers is for small- and medium-sized data centers that don’t have a lot of resources or staff to ensure the latest cutting edge tech.

I wasn’t able to attend the event (I’ll get to Zurich some day!), but I interviewed two Google execs the day before the conference, and have been reading some of the coverage of the talks. James Hamilton, VP Engineer for Amazon Web Services, attended Google’s summit and took notes on the morning keynote by Google Senior VP Urs Hoelzle. According to Hamilton’s notes, Hoelzle pointed out some interesting and counter intuitive metrics about data center power consumption.

Hoelzle said that the widely-cited metric that 2 percent of U.S. energy consumption goes to data centers is widely misunderstood, and the actual data point is that 2 percent of the U.S. energy budget is spent on IT, and most of that energy is actually consumed by the client side of IT (devices, computers, etc.). The actual breakdown of IT and the energy budget in the U.S.: Client devices consume 50 percent of the IT energy budget, telecom networks and systems consume 37 percent, and data centers consume 14 percent. So at the end of the day, data centers consume 0.28 percent of the U.S. power budget (note, this is all from Hamilton’s blog).

Despite the number being a lot smaller-sounding than the widely-cited metric that data centers consume 2 percent of U.S. power, Google still thinks it’s an increasingly growing problem. That’s the whole point to the day-long Google summit. Hoelzle also dug a little deeper into that 0.28 percent of power consumption and segmented it: Large data centers consume 28 percent of that energy, medium-sized data centers consume 31 percent, and small data centers consume 41 percent. The important part to note of that, said Hoelzle, is that small- and medium-sized data centers, which often lack the resources of the massive new cutting edge data centers, make up 72 percent of the data center energy consumption.

As a result, Google is pushing the so-called “low hanging fruit,” and spent the day laying out the best practices that any IT manager can do on a reasonable budget, such as maintaining hot and cool aisles, managing airflow, measuring the energy consumption in the facility, using outside air whenever available, running the data center at a higher temperature like 80 degrees, and optimizing power distribution. Google laid out all these points in this set of videos, and Google’s Joe Kava went over similar points with me in an interview. Just stick to the basics, and a low PUE (data center efficiency metric) of 1.5 or lower can be achieved.

Image courtesy of Google.