There have been great strides toward environmentally sustainable servers and a green data center. Early computing systems were not designed to be environmentally sustainable—it was enough just to get them to work. The ENIAC, for example, with its more than 17,000 vacuum tubes, reportedly used 150 KW of power. As evidence of the advancements, many of us carry a comparatively efficient computer in the form of a smartphone in our pocket or purse. Efficient as they are with limited battery power, the volume of devices adds up to a significant environmental impact.
These billions of devices are in addition to the servers in data centers throughout the world not only consuming power to keep running, but also needing air conditioning to remove the heat they are generating as a byproduct.
The environmental impact goes far beyond the power consumed to keep these devices running. Numerous Earth resources like gas, water, raw materials, and more are needed to build and distribute this equipment. Ultimately, when they wear out or become obsolete, there is further impact on the environment as energy is spent dismantling and discarding or recycling components as appropriate.
The expanding use of computers and growing number of people who are obtaining devices and jumping onto the Internet makes it clearly evident that we need to do much more in the interest of sustainability. Fortunately, there are sustainability-aware technologists who manage resource consumption from a product’s initial design, through its lifetime, and to its recycling at end of life. They will even include shipping considerations as they develop the product. For example, some manufacturers are assembling devices near areas where they will be sold, or close to hubs where fewer resources are needed to deliver products.
Smartphones are an excellent example of design with efficiency in mind. These devices will automatically shut down sections of their system that are not in use to preserve battery life. When less processing power is needed, some devices and systems slow down the processor. These techniques are also being used in computer systems more frequently, including the use of dark silicon to conserve power.
Additionally, computer power supplies were much less efficient In the past than the new 80 Plus® units. Required to be at least 80% efficient at 25%, 50%, 75%, or even 100% of full load, the new crop of power supplies don’t waste near as much power through heat loss.
These same concepts are being used in entire data centers. Virtual machines may be migrated so as to consolidate and shut down unused systems. Applications and services are given intelligent policies and placement for optimized resource utilization. Data centers themselves are sometimes located where ambient cooling reduces air conditioning costs.
Power capping is a key approach data centers employ to optimize performance on severs without allowing them to consume more than a pre-determined amount of power. With this technique, data centers are able to achieve greater server density without increasing power needs.
While technology itself is being used to manage its own sustainability, all people involved need to be aware of sustainability issues. Regulations and incentives will help expand that awareness and organizations must be motivated to improve the sustainability of their businesses.
Meanwhile, cloud computing and virtualization will help extend global environmental sustainability through consolidation. The Internet of Things could also be used to aid in the automation. Smart appliances could react to changing power costs or availability. Awareness of the need for environmental sustainability for data centers and devices will continues to expand—we hope it will keep pace with the growth in usage we are seeing.