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Going Green Captures Attention Thanks To Down Economy

In a quirk of fate, what used to be considered pricey benevolence--supporting green initiatives--is now a way to save money in these tough times. A new market research study by Frost & Sullivan's Technical Insights research group, called Green Data Centers--Emerging Trends and Developments, finds that cost savings, along with the economic downturn, have emerged as the main catalysts in green IT initiatives. The study provides a technology overview and outlook for energy technology. It covers industry trends that are shaping the move toward green, energy-efficient data centers and includes detailed technology analysis and industry trends based on interviews with market participants.

Frost & Sullivan research analysts and report authors Gaurav Sundararaman and Achyuthanandan Sampath say industry estimates indicate that between 2000 and 2005, data center energy consumption has doubled from a total of 71 billion kilowatt hours per year (kWh/yr) to more than 150 billion kWh/yr. In addition, the number of data centers is increasing. Given these recent trends, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has predicted that the energy consumption of U.S.-based data centers will exceed 100 billion kWh by 2011, for an annual electricity cost of $7.4 billion. By 2020, the world's data centers could top aircrafts as greenhouse gas polluters, the authors say.

Such spectacular growth amid a troubled economy is driving interest in finding ways to cut energy costs by reducing the power needs of data centers. It's also accelerating the need for companies to find new ways of dealing with ongoing issues around power, cooling and space in their data centers. Green IT efforts that reduce data center energy consumption will lead to both cost and environmental benefits, according to the authors. Green technologies typically also dissipate less heat when compared to typical data center hardware. That, in turn, reduces the need for external cooling mechanisms such as fans and air conditioners that also consume costly power. Green technologies, such as virtualization, can also aid in reducing the number of servers required for IT operations, thus saving space. Sundararaman and Sampath point to virtualization (mainly server virtualization), thin provisioning, data-deduplication and other proprietary storage optimization technologies, as well as software based solutions for energy management as key green technologies available today.

The authors note that there are other factors spurring green data centers, including regulatory compliance and incentives, as well as growing public sentiment that is starting to invoke competitive advantage. Governments are creating regulations and initiatives requiring businesses to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon emissions. The European Union has started a program called the European Code of Conduct for Data Centers to help operators and owners to reduce energy consumption cost-effectively. It is a voluntary initiative and any data center operator can enroll into the program by committing to regularly file energy consumption reports with the EU. The program also requires volunteers to abide by a set of best practices for energy efficiency. Sundararaman and Sampath suggest governments consider policy that rewards green efforts, similar to the way California's Pacific Gas and Electric Company awarded NetApp a rebate of $1.4 million from for building an energy-efficient data center. The public is also pressuring companies to consider green IT initiatives. According to the authors, consumers today are more likely to purchase products and services offered by "green" companies as opposed to companies that are not conscientious about the environment.

Data centers don't come cheap. In fact, the report's authors say building a state-of-the-art data center can exceed $200 million, with the major costs relating to infrastructure and energy. Moreover, companies have reported that the costs to operate data centers--costs incurred while maintaining the energy levels and necessary cooling levels--are close to 100% of the capital expenditure. However, green data centers can save money. Syracuse University (SU) has just completed a new green data center that is expected to use about 50 percent less energy than a typical data center in operation today. If a company opts to build a green IT data center, the authors suggest paying close attention to choosing the right location and right set of technologies. Aside from building a new, green data center from the ground up, as Syracuse University did, Sundararaman and Sampath recommend companies consider outsourcing their data center requirements.