Data centers aren't exactly known for their sustainability—the power hogs are responsible for 1.5% of all power use in the United States. But as cloud computing, the IT golden child that uses mega-data centers to store information, becomes more popular, so do data centers. Without energy efficiency measures, data center consumption will total $7.4 billion annually by 2011 (compared to $4.5 billion today). So what can be done to save cloud computing without bleeding cash and energy?
Companies like IBM, Google, and HP already have made strides in cutting data center energy use. IBM, for example, recently broke ground on a Syracuse,New York-based data center that will use 50% less energy than traditional facilities. The $12.4 million data center contains an on-site electrical co-generation system with gas-fueled microturbine engines as well as water-cooled server racks. Sensors direct workloads to optimal servers. Similarly, Google recently revealed that its data centers use half as much energy as standard data centers thanks to cooling towers that evaporate excess heat and recycle cooled-down water back into the facility
At HP, cloud computing is part of the company's vision of "everything as a service." That means the company is relying on the cloud for everything from on-demand book printing to online picture and video storage. It also means that the company is invested in keeping data center costs down. To that end, HP sells its HP POD, a veritable data center in a box that is 50% more energy-efficient that most data center buildouts.
And soon enough, we'll even have an army of dedicated green data center managers. Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska recently announced the country's first degree in green data center management. At the end of the program, students are given the chance to work in the on-campus Information Technology Data Center.
Cloud computing in and of itself isn't particularly sustainable—no one has figured out how to maintain a net-zero energy data center—but it won't go away any time soon either. The best we can hope for is to minimize its impact with energy efficiency measures. Fortunately, it's in the best interest of anyone running a data center to cut down on power costs.