Green

Yahoo’s new facility shows growing importance of green data centers

Yahoo unveiled a new data center in Lockport, New York today, boasting one of the most energy-efficient data centers in the world – and exemplifying the push among big Internet companies to green data storage.

The new data center boasts some nice stats — the company says it will use 40 percent less energy and 95 percent less water than conventional data centers. Yahoo says its power-use effectiveness (PUE) for the facility is 1.08, which means 92 percent of power consumption goes towards actual computing, not ancillary things like lighting and cooling.

The data center will be powered in part by hydropower and reduce energy costs to one cent for cooling for every dollar spent on electricity. It was built with the help of a $9.9 million grant from the Department of Energy.

The issue of green data storage is one that’s growing in importance. The EPA has expressed concern about the growing energy consumption of data centers. And operating storage centers and cooling servers has become a growing cost for the IT industry. Storage capacity needed by the average Fortune 1000 company doubles every 10 months, according to an Accenture report, and data centers can use 100 times the electricity per square foot of a typical office building.

There are public relations implications too, as green advocates turn their eyes to energy-gobbling data storage centers. For the past few weeks, Facebook has been under fire from Greenpeace for its plans to build a data center in Oregon that will use energy from a coal-burning source, though Facebook initially touted some of the centers energy-efficiency measures. Greenpeace released Friday a cartoon satire of “The Social Network” movie that zings the social media giant for opting not to use wind energy and not committing to renewable resources.

Given the pressing demands on both the cost and company image side of the equation, data storage efficiency has grabbed the spotlight — and a number of players are trying to gain traction. Proposals range from power management software — Power Assure, for example, announced today a data optimization software that can cut energy consumption up to 50 percent —  to ideas such as dunking servers in a cooling oil bath.

Even data center owners themselves are tempted to best each other, such as with Yahoo’s announcement today. Google also touts the energy efficiency numbers of its facilities. Google’s quarterly average PUE is 1.17, but as Green Tech Media notes, its overall ratings are probably better than Yahoo’s overall numbers. There’s still plenty of room for improvement in the industry: As the article reports, “Typical data centers have a PUE of 1.92, which means that roughly half of the power goes to things that aren’t computers.”

Yahoo’s situation is interesting because the company has designed its own data center, choosing a location with cool weather and winds. Its self-named “chicken coop” design is exactly as it sounds, inspired by the long, narrow architecture of chicken coops. The result: air moves through the building naturally and cools the servers without the usual need to crank up the air conditioning (and in turn, high electricity bills).

In one noteworthy departure from the norm, though, Google, Amazon, Nokia and Microsoft teamed up earlier this year to fight a new data center standard that would require companies to install a specific device that circulates ambient air to cool down servers. The companies argued that they needed leg room to experiment and innovate with other efficiency measures.