The data center of the future: software defined and green?

The data center has come a long way from the days of the .com revolution. Silo-ed data centers, which used to be norm during the 90s to the early 2000s, gradually made way for virtualized data centers in the mid-2000s.


The resurgence of cloud computing, made possible by advances in network and data center technology, has now given rise to another form of data center, one powered by software defined networking (SDN). SDN is a technology that has just started gaining traction, but predictions are rife that SDN will take off in the years to come, particularly as enterprises continue to warm up to the idea of embarking on public, private and hybrid clouds.


What else does the future hold for the data center this year and beyond?


According to research from Markets and Markets, the global software defined data center market is estimated at US$396.1 million in 2013 and this is expected to grow to US$5.41 billion in 2018. North America is expected to be the biggest software defined data center market, while Asia Pacific is expected to grow at a significantly faster pace in the coming years.


In addition the software defined data centers, the question of clean, green energy to power data centers will likely also prove a hot topic in the coming years in the face of increased data center demand.


Equinix is one data center provider who sees a sustainable future for investing in ‘green’ technologies.


“Servers, industrial cooling systems, running electricity and generators are the main components that consume energy,” says Eric Hui (pictured, left), director of cloud, IT and enterprise, Equinix Asia Pacific. “However, there are a variety of energy efficient design elements that data center providers can put in place today to reduce energy consumption.”


The company’s third data center in Amsterdam (AM3) uses an Aquifier Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) system in the ground instead of traditional mechanical cooling. Cold ground water from the North Sea is used to cool the data center, with the heated water from the data center used to warm nearby buildings. AM3 also utilizes solar PV panels to generate onsite electricity and a roof covered with vegetation to reduce storm water runoff and lower cooling costs. Equinix’s upcoming SG3 data center will also feature a solar power system.


The company’s data centers in Australia and Hong Kong have achieved LEED Gold certification, a standard recognized across the globe as the premier mark of achievement in green building. Due to the results of an energy efficiency study Equinix took part in in Singapore, new sensors were installed for real-time environment monitoring in its SG1 data center. The upgrading of fans alone, using an electronically commutated model whereby the motor doesn’t sit inside the fan inlet where it can cause turbulence, resulted in an approximately 30% reduction in energy use.


According to Hui, there are seven core components that the company is putting in place to maximize energy efficiency.


These are:

1) Cold Aisle Containment: Physical barriers to reduce the mixing of cold supply air and hot exhaust air in data center aisles, delivering lower energy consumption and more efficient cooling.


2) Lighting System Efficiency: Motion activated light controllers to reduce the energy consumption and heat load.


3) Retro-fitting compact: Use compact florescent light bulbs that consume up to 75% less energy, last up to 10 times longer and produce more light per watt than incandescent bulbs.


4) Cooling and temperature control: Live rack temperature sensor monitoring integrated with CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) system for more accurate temperature distribution analysis


5) Variable frequency drives (VFD): Automatically reduces a motor’s speed and power draw when there is lower system load to conserve energy. Deployed in chillers, pumps and fans in HVAC systems.


6) Monitoring and analyzing efficiency: Detailed monitoring and benchmarking improvement, analyzing design efficiency and reliability by using CFD.


7) Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE): Supports, uses and is involved in the creating on industry- standard efficiency metrics, such as PUE in cooperation with the U.S. EPA. By using these efficiency metrics, companies can benchmark operations and evaluate efficiency gains.


According to Schneider Electric’s VP of IT business Jonathan Chiu (pictured, middle), the continued growth and proliferation of the Internet signals a trend toward smarter and more efficient data centers that will better address the needs for different elements in smart cities such as smart energy, smart mobility, smart utilities, smart public devices and smart buildings and homes.


Chiu cites Ecolas data center in Grenoble, France as a good example of a green cloud data center. The facility uses the water table above its location to feed the air conditioners of the clean room cooling circuits. The building operates with energy generated from hydroelectric power plants and wind farms and also produces energy with photovoltaic solar panels with 75 kW peak capacity.


“An integrated data center solution that fully integrates power, cooling, racks and management tools is critical to adopting a scalable, modular, pay-as-you-grow approach to a data center,” says Chiu. “We feel there will be greater interaction between the servers that now provide real-time data about utilization, power and heat use within the physical infrastructure and external intelligent smart grid utilities.”


Amir Haghbin (pictured, right), advisor to the Asia Cloud Computing Association and founder at Cloud Malaysia Infocenter is another strong supporter of renewable energy sources.


“Data centers are among the world’s fastest-growing energy consumers since power and cooling, the most critical needs for data centers, are prodigious users of electricity,” says Haghbin.


Haghbin cites how renewable resources such as organic material (agricultural waste from plants or animals) could be used for fuel sources in more standard generation energy plants, though these facilities could be located too far away and outside of data center operators’ control due to the high cost required to establish such facilities within data centers.


While Haghbin concedes that renewables on their own cannot meet the industry’s ever-increasing energy demand due to implementation costs and long return on investment, he adds governments could introduce policies to promote alternative energy use, which could pave the way towards mass adoption of renewable energy-powered data centers.