Understanding Data Center Energy Consumption

Man monitoring data center energy consumption

Think of data centers as the brains of the internet—they process, store, and communicate all of the data behind the services we rely on every day, from social media to scientific computing. 

To do this, data centers use various IT devices, all of which require a significant amount of energy use. For example, servers perform computations and provide logic to respond to information requests, storage drives hold the data and files needed to meet each request, and network devices enable the incoming and outgoing flows of data by connecting the entire data center to the internet.

The electricity that these IT devices use ultimately turns into heat, which the data center must remove by using cooling equipment that also consumes energy.

Related: What Data Centers Do and Why

Current Statistics of Data Center Energy Consumption

According to a report released by Forbes back in 2017, data centers based in the United States alone utilized more than 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity that year. That much energy would require 34 massive coal-powered plants to generate at least 500 megawatts each to meet the power demands of said data centers. However, this figure pales compared to the amount of power needed to run data centers on a global scale, which amounts to 416 terawatts, or approximately 3% of all electricity generated on Earth. That is already a massive amount of power, and with the number of data centers in operation growing each year, power demands are only increasing as time goes on. 

Given that 80% of the world’s energy is still derived from fossil fuels, increasing power demands have created significant environmental problems. Thankfully, this issue has not escaped the notice of many data center providers, who have dedicated themselves to finding solutions to meet the power needs of consumers while keeping their energy usage at efficient and reasonable levels. In general, data centers operate much more effectively in terms of their power usage now than several years ago, as demonstrated by their Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) scores. However, there are always new methods for improvement, especially since most of the efficiency changes made are considered relatively “low-hanging fruit.” It’s time for data centers to take another step into the realm of efficient energy consumption.

Electricity Use in Data Centers

On average, cooling systems and servers account for most of the energy consumption in data centers, followed by network devices and storage drives. 

Per the US Department of Energy, the largest data centers with tens of thousands of devices require over 100MW of power, which is enough to power approximately 80,000 households.

As internet usage increases, so does the demand for data center services, raising concerns

 about growing energy use. According to this study, from 2010 to 2018, global IP traffic increased by ten times, while data center storage capacity increased by 25 times. Over that same period, the total compute instances running on servers across the globe increased by more than six times.

We expect these growth trends to continue as the world keeps consuming more and more data. Moreover, with new forms of services like AI, which are computationally intensive, demand for IT services may grow even faster. That’s why it’s crucial to be able to quantify and project data center energy consumption.

Two Methods of Estimating Data Center Energy Consumption

Because official statistics are not compiled regarding national and global levels of data center energy consumption, we have to use mathematical models to estimate energy usage. “Bottom-up” models account for installed IT devices in data centers and each one’s energy use characteristics to estimate the total energy consumption. This approach is less common, as it’s very data and time-intensive—the most recent, authoritative study using this method appeared in 2011 and estimated that data centers were responsible for just over 1% of global electricity use in 2010.

On the other hand, we have extrapolation-based models to estimate total energy use by scaling bottom-up values based on market growth indicators like data center investments and global IP traffic. Because these models are much simpler, they typically get used to fill the gaps left behind by the more sporadic bottom-up studies.

Bottom-Up and Extrapolation-Based Models: The Results

Because market indicators grow rapidly, extrapolation models estimate significant increases in data center energy consumption. For example, an often-cited extrapolation study suggests that global data center use has doubled since 2010 and will continue to rise swiftly. These estimates reinforced the common belief that increased demand for data leads to equally rapid growth in data center energy consumption.

However, results from the bottom-up perspective show otherwise. According to the study by Eric Masanet mentioned in the previous section, it’s more likely that global data center energy consumption only rose about 6% from 2010 to 2018. The number is based on the integration of recent datasets, which offer better characterization for installed stocks, operating characteristics, and the overall energy use of IT devices in data centers. These results lie in stark contrast to the extrapolation-based estimates.

There are three factors that primarily affect this change in energy use:

  1. IT device energy efficiency has improved substantially because of steady technological progress by manufacturers.
  2. Server virtualization software reduces the energy intensity of hosted applications by allowing multiple to run on one server.
  3. Cloud and hyper-scale class data centers utilize more efficient cooling systems to minimize their energy consumption.

      Those three factors are hard to capture using an extrapolation-based approach, which is why those methods show more energy consumption than data centers actually use.

      Data Center Energy Use and CO2 Emissions

      Energy consumption in data centers has also given rise to concerns about CO2 emissions. However, it’s not yet realistic to estimate the total emissions due to a lack of global data center data and the emission intensities of their electricity sources. Companies like Apple, Google, and Switch are beginning to publicly report this data, though, which indicates a growing trend among the largest data center operators of moving toward renewable energy procurement.

      But, since we know a lot about global electricity use in data centers, we have a useful benchmark to test claims about CO2 emissions against. Let’s look at an example.

      One often-repeated claim is that global data centers emit the same amount of CO2 as the aviation industry—about 915 million tonnes. Global data centers recently consumed about 205 billion kWh. So, for this claim to be true, their average emission intensity would have to be approximately 4.4 kg CO2/kWh. Now, let’s look at coal-fired power plants, which are the most carbon-intensive facilities. Their emission intensity is less than ¼ of that value—about 1 kg CO2/kWh. Because data centers obviously don’t run on coal, especially in light of trends toward renewable energy use, it’s unrealistic to believe that the CO2 emissions from data centers are that significant.

      Related: Understanding Data Center Infrastructure

      Moving Forward: Enhancing Data Center Energy Consumption Efficiency

      Because of the growing demand for IT services and compute-intensive applications, there’s a risk that the demand will outpace our energy efficiency gains. This means that investments in energy-efficient technologies like next-gen heat removal, computing, and storage will be a necessity to avoid steep energy consumption growth in the future. Analysts should consider a few key priorities:

      1. Developing and sharing reliable data on configurations, stocks, and energy use characteristics of cooling and power systems and IT devices.
      2. Sharing and comparing models to develop best practices to increase confidence in model outputs.
      3. Working together to develop better practices for emerging trends like AI, 5G, and increased computing intensities.

      Looking to enhance your data center’s energy efficiency? Get in touch with our data center power management experts today!

      Over the last several decades, data centers have developed into an increasingly essential component of our modern society, and computer infrastructure has become a significant part of the foundation of our lives. With that development and the massive assortment of advantages, it has provided, it has also brought about notable drawbacks, particularly regarding environmental sustainability and energy consumption. When it comes to operating successfully in 2022, data centers need to prioritize efficient energy usage and place significant emphasis on developing new methods to reduce their overall energy consumption.

      16 Tips to Improving Energy Usage and Efficiency

      Making massive-scale changes to data center operations to enhance the efficiency of energy usage can be a complex, costly, and time-consuming venture. But changes don’t have to be extreme to be effective, and they don’t need to happen all at once. By utilizing the following sixteen methods, data centers can quickly start to efficiently lower their power usage without significantly impacting their bottom line.

      Related: Types of Cloud Computing & How They Differ

      1. Reduce Dependency on Cooling

      On average, most of the power that data centers utilize goes towards running cooling and air conditioning systems to keep their servers at appropriate temperatures and prevent them from overheating. Power consumption can be significantly reduced by optimizing cooling operations in a large variety of ways. Improving ventilation systems, strategically laying out equipment, properly insulating server rooms, and creating streamlined airflows can improve cooling efficiency. Well explore some more specific examples below, but some additional measures that data center operations can employ include;

      • Eliminating unnecessary equipment in server rooms
      • Replace old or outdated equipment with more energy and temperature-efficient technology
      • Replace old or obsolete cooling systems- especially those more than ten years old
      • Install air economizer systems

      2. Experiment with Temperature

      Because keeping server rooms and their equipment sufficiently cool is critical for server operations, many managers don’t consider experimenting to find potentially more efficient temperatures for their data center. They may be concerned that doing so will damage their expensive equipment, resulting in costly repairs or replacements. However, the truth is that lowering maintained temperatures by even a few degrees can cut down on power consumption and save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Take the time to calculate the cooling needs of your data center and then experiment with different temperatures to find the most optimal solution to meet your needs.

      3. Utilize a Hot Aisle/Cold Aisle Layout for Servers

      Source: https://www.energystar.gov/sites/default/files/asset/document/DataCenter-Top12-Brochure-Final.pdf

      Some data centers arrange their servers and other equipment into aisles, with everything facing the same direction. If this describes your data center, consider reorienting your machinery so that aisles have the fronts of servers facing each other and the backs of servers facing each other. This arrangement will create hot and cold aisles and reduce hot and cold air mixing, improving temperature efficiency within the server room.

      4. Enclose or Contain Your Server Racks

      Containing or enclosing your server racks is another way to prevent the mixing of cold and warm air in data centers, which can help lower the need for powerful cooling technologies to keep the environment at an appropriate temperature. Anything you can do to help reduce the power needed for data center climate control is a practical step that data center managers should sincerely consider taking.

      5. Utilize General Air Flow Improvement Methods

      Data center operators should research general improvement methods for temperature and airflow and consider incorporating them. For example, they can install specialized blanking panels to decrease server inlet air temperatures while increasing the temperatures of the air that’s returning to the computer room air conditioning (CRAC). This can help significantly improve the operational efficiency of their equipment while reducing the need for power dedicated to climate control.

      6. Invest in Retrofitting Your AC Units with Variable Speed Fan Drives

      Specialized retrofit kits for CRACs are available and typically offer two-year payback guarantees. They allow you to adjust the fan speeds of AC units to accommodate the changing cooling loads of your data center.

      Do you own or operate a data center that’s currently in need of some specialized power system designs, monitoring technologies, protection solutions, advanced cooling systems, and more? Please reach out to our trusted experts at C&C Technology Group today.

      7. Install an Air-Side Economizer

      One of the cheapest ways to help keep your servers cool is to utilize the outside cooling air and bring it into the building. Air-side economizers can take advantage of colder evening and winter air temperatures to save as much as 60% on cooling power and costs.

      8. Adjust Your Data Center’s Humidity

      Much like temperature, humidity is another critical component that must be carefully maintained within a data center. Too much humidity can create condensation, causing equipment to corrode, experience electrical malfunctions, and sustain significant and costly damages. However, too little humidity can lead to a significant build-up of electrostatic charges, damaging or even destroying equipment once a discharge occurs. It’s a general rule to keep the relative humidity of a data center at 45% to 55%, but the range that’s best for your center and its equipment may be more specific. Carefully experiment with your data center’s humidity levels to find the optimal level for your servers. You may find that it helps you save on your regular energy consumption.

      9. Identify and Remove Zombie or Comatose Servers

      Zombie or comatose servers refer to systems that are no longer utilized in data center operations but continue to remain powered and consume unnecessary amounts of energy. Data published in an article by ComputerWorld indicates that 25% of physical servers and 30% of virtual servers in data centers are classified as zombie or comatose. These systems are typically left operational because there’s no paper trail regarding what they contain or what purpose they serve, making data center managers hesitant to take them offline.

      To help prevent this, everything a server contains should be carefully documented, and appropriate monitoring tools should be used to offer direct oversight. Data center staff should work diligently to comb through their various servers to locate the unnecessary zombies still in operation and disconnect them. Doing so can massively reduce power consumption and enhance energy efficiency.

      Technicians Working on Data Center Power
      Technicians Working on Data Center Power

      10. Consolidate All Lightly Used Servers

      On average, a typical server’s utilization is between 5% and 15%, despite requiring full power to run. Consolidate your lightly used servers and remove the ones you don’t need to reduce your overall power consumption. 

      11. Virtualize Your Servers

      Data centers used to rely on several independent, physical servers that took up copious amounts of space and power to run their operations. These servers can now be virtualized and consolidated to operate much more efficiently. Taking the time to virtualize your data center servers can help reduce energy usage and costs by anywhere between 10% and 40%.

      12. Organize, Delete, and Improve Your Stored Data

      Storage utilization typically accounts for about 30% of systems power, and it’s not uncommon for data centers to keep 20 or more copies of the same data, resulting in wasted storage space and used power. Locate and remove excess stored data that isn’t necessary to free up both space and energy for other equipment.

      13. Invest in More Energy-Efficient Technologies

      Older servers and technologies are nowhere near as energy efficient as newer models. If your data center is truly dedicated to lowering its power usage, you’ll want to invest in some new equipment. Consider acquiring an ENERGY STAR qualified server, which can use as much as 30% less energy than other conventional servers. 

      14. Decrease or Optimize Your Data Center’s Space

      This point essentially goes hand in hand with point #11 above since virtualizing your servers can be a fantastic way to reduce the amount of space your data center needs to function correctly. The fewer physical servers you need, the less room you need, and the less power you’ll need to dedicate to keeping a massive area appropriately cool or within the correct range of humidity. This allows data centers to significantly downsize while reducing their overall energy usage, which can, in turn, save them massive amounts of money in the long run. 

      15. Synchronize the Server Capacity and Load of Your Equipment

      New and refreshed configurations can waste data center power and resources when demand is low, so it’s only logical to match up your server capacity and active hardware to meet real-time needs. Proper strategy and planning and the assistance of management and monitoring tools can allow data center staff to match these two elements to create a more efficient, streamlined system that doesn’t waste unnecessary amounts of power.

      16. Develop Stronger, More Reliable Supplier Partnerships 

      Finding and partnering with an efficient energy supplier can provide massive savings and help data centers massively improve the overall efficiency of their energy usage. If your data center’s current energy supplier isn’t doing everything they can to help you optimize your usage, it’s time to start looking into some other quality power suppliers. 

      Related: How to Cool a Server Room Properly [2022] 

      What Consumes the Most Energy in a Data Center?

      Data centers usually use a lot of energy to maintain their servers. They consume about 1,000 kWh per square meter. This is about ten times the power consumption of a typical American home. The most common data center equipment is the server racks, which use a lot of energy to maintain and cool down their components. The data center cooling systems are also relatively inefficient and consume about 70% of the total energy used in a data center.

      The biggest consumers in data centers are servers and cooling systems that require constant maintenance to keep them running smoothly and efficiently. But it’s also older servers and older equipment such as network communication tools that also tend to cause a lot of consumption. 

      Related: Immersion Cooling: Development & Implementation Guide

      How Much Heat Do Data Centers Generate?

      Data centers are used to conduct large-scale computing and serve as the lifeblood of many significant companies. They generate a lot of heat, so cooling systems are installed to maintain the optimal temperature for work. You can expect that the hot aisles within a data center can range from around 85 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Data centers thrive on cool temperatures, so the heat that gets generated for them needs to be fully utilized to make this work efficiently. 

      How Many kWh Does a Server Use?

      There will be a lot of variations for this due to the workload of a server and the demand. The average annual power may be around 1,800 to 1,900 kWh every year. 

      Why Do Data Centers Consume So Much Energy?

      Data centers tend to consume a lot of energy because they have to provide many services and support at once. In addition, many data centers are located in hot, humid locations with low air quality, putting the facilities at additional risk for issues such as HVAC failure, equipment degradation, and power outages. All of this has to be taken into consideration for data storage

      But one should also keep in mind that data centers run on electricity. All of their equipment runs on electricity. Servers and other equipment get very hot when generated, so cooling systems then need to run (on electricity as well) to cool off the space. 

      Related: Data Center Power: Best Guide to Efficient Power Management

      How Much Energy Do Data Centers Use Globally?

      Data centers are large buildings used to house and manage large amounts of data and computer equipment. They can range from a few hundred square feet to several million square feet in size. They use a lot of energy, but the world’s total data transfer is only expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. On a worldwide scale, it’s estimated that the transmission of data networking can consume anywhere from 260 to 340 TWh., or around 1 to 1.4% of the electricity used in the world.

      How Much Power Does a Data Center Use Per Square Foot?

      Generally speaking, this can vary. However, the typical power density can be roughly 150 watts per square footage. But it can also be as high as 300 watts.

      Related: Green Data Centers & Sustainability Outlook

      Why Do Data Centers Need Batteries?

      In order to keep the data centers in their facilities cool, batteries are necessary. Therefore, a significant data center trend popping up would be battery use. The battery is a device that stores energy, which can then be released to power the individual components of the data center independently without any use of readily available power. Data centers demand a lot of power, and there needs to be enough power for an entire room filled with cabinets.

      Are you currently searching for a selection of top-quality data center solutions for planning, power, monitoring, infrastructure, and much more? Please don’t hesitate to contact our trusted experts here at C&C Technology Group today to learn about everything we can do to help with our 100+ years of data center design experience.

      Improving The Energy Use and Efficiency of Your Data Center

      While not all of the above solutions may be right for your particular needs, you should at least have a few valuable ideas that you can start implementing in your data center to optimize your power usage and energy efficiency.

      If you’d like even more ways to improve your data center, please don’t hesitate to contact our trusted team of experts here at C&C Technology Group today to inquire about our range of power, cooling, infrastructure, and cleaning service advisory. Also, please feel free to peruse our selection of expertly written educational articles and data center resources

      Last Updated on June 8, 2023 by Josh Mahan

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