November 18, 2015

U.S. data centers are on track to consume roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually by 2020, according to a 2014 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). There’s good reason for that rise in energy consumption: data centers are doing more (think Big Data and IoT). But it’s unsustainable. To meet rising demand for data center capacity, the data center must evolve.

U.S. data centers are on track to consume roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually by 2020, according to a 2014 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). That’s equivalent to the output of 50 large (500MW) power plants.

There’s good reason for rising energy consumption: data centers are doing more. From Big Data to IoT, demand for data center capacity is rising exponentially. (Literally – 90% of the data that exists in the world today was created in just the last two years, according to IBM.) These IT opportunities have the potential to make the world a cleaner, safer, better place.

Yet at the same time that demand for IT capacity is rising exponentially, data centers remain woefully underutilized. According to the NRDC, “Much of the energy consumed by U.S. data centers is used to power more than 12 million servers that do little or no work most of the time.”

How could it be that in a world of such rapidly rising demand, supply could be so misused? It’s the flaws of the traditional data center model. The traditional data center is not capable of agility or responsiveness. Power and cooling infrastructure is expensive and slow to build, so it’s typically fully built out when the data center is. That means the data center provider has a lot of sunk capital to recoup. So the provider requires tenants to sign 10- or 15-year contracts for a specified amount of power capacity.

That model forces IT leaders to try and forecast how much capacity they’ll need in 10 or 15 years – an impossible feat given how rapidly the digital world is evolving. Facing the choice of either risking capacity constraint or over-provisioning, most IT leaders over-provision. No fault of their own, they never end up using the capacity they nevertheless have to pay for every month. (The average data center power utilization is 56%, according to a 2015 enterprise data center survey by 451 Research.)

Furthermore, the traditional data center model delivers reliability by building two or more of everything. Consider, for example, Gartner’s perspective on data center cooling: “Gartner generally finds that most multi-tenant data center operators have an extremely diverse array of IT equipment operating within their facilities and generally take a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach to their environments operating them cooler than may be necessary – just to be safe.”

The data center must evolve

None of the opportunities presented by technologies like Big Data and the Internet of Things is sustainable unless the data center evolves. Fortunately, the data center can – and will – evolve. And that will yield tremendous gains in resource efficiency.

“If just half of the savings potential from adopting energy efficiency best practices were realized, America’s data centers could slash their electricity consumption by as much as 40%.”
Natural Resources Defense Council

Data center customers no longer have to choose between risking capacity constraints in the future and over-provisioning today. You no longer have to sacrifice efficiency for reliability. You can, as they say, have your cake and eat it, too. You can meet rising demand for IT capacity without an equal rise in energy and water consumption. When the data center is more fully utilized, it’s doing more with less.

How big an issue is it? Consider McKinsey’s perspective: “The portion of the IT budget consumed by infrastructure and facilities is significantly reshaping the economics of many businesses…data center costs are diverting capital from new product development, making some products and segments uneconomical and materially affecting margins. Without radical changes in operations, many companies with large data centers face reduced profitability.”

Aligned Data Centers’ role

If your organization is going to do more with less, it will require control over the data center, and a data center model set up to waste less. That’s where Aligned Data Centers comes in.

We’re give you back control of the data center, through:

  • Plug-and-play infrastructure deployable in right-sized increments – and analytics for capacity planning
  • Support for variable densities

And we enable you to waste less through:

  • Ultra-efficient power and cooling infrastructure
  • “The most reliable cooling system in the marketplace”