Greener IT Pastures

Conserving energy is top of mind across every business. However, as application growth continues to outpace server performance, energy costs associated with 1U servers are expected to double this year.

While retailers are clearly investing in more solutions that can reduce energy consumption among IT infrastructure, there are options that don’t have such high price tags. By following a few best practices, chains can put their best energy-conservation foot forward, as well as reduce total cost of ownership of IT investments, in a much more cost-efficient way.

Energy-conscious companies, retailers and technology partners alike already have energy-reduction strategies in place. For example, some vendors are incorporating special processors that enable retailers to utilize less power when running servers, point-of-sale systems and kiosks.

By providing energy savings that tend to range between 20% and 40%, these solutions can help retailers reuse this energy elsewhere in the data center and at store level, and save dollars. (Read about some specific IT solutions in this month’s Retail Technology feature, “Solving Data-Center Dilemmas)

Then there are vendors, IBM for example, that are designing equipment and hardware with recycled plastic. They also opt for environmentally friendly packaging when shipping their equipment.

Some chains are even going to such extremes as relocating data centers to regions that have more natural-energy sources. For example, some companies are building data centers near the Grand Coulee Dam. The hydroelectric gravity dam, which is on the Columbia River in Washington state, is the largest electric-power-producing facility in the United States.

“It is a way to lower energy cost and improve their IT TCO,” Christian L. Belady, technologist, enterprise storage and servers, Hewlett-Packard Co., said during the recent Webinar, “Reduce Power Consumption While Driving Greater Computing Performance in the Data Center,” sponsored by CRN magazine and InformationWeek.

While these ideas and results are tempting, they clearly take a large level of commitment and deep pockets. However, there are plenty of energy- and cost-saving options—many of which are virtually free—that can be added immediately in any data center:

Create a hot aisle/cold aisle configuration. Since most servers operate at the same temperature, retailers should alternate unit placement. To create a cold aisle, the servers should face each other, allowing the units’ back ends to face each other. The power and heat they emit creates a hot aisle; meanwhile the faces of the units remain cool;

Measure the power being output from the servers. By matching the airflow, retailers can adjust air conditioning so servers don’t overheat;

Seal all cable holes or cutouts. This will keep heat from leaking out of servers and being ingested by a unit in a cool aisle; and

Place air conditioners perpendicular to hot aisles. Also, use platforms if servers need to be elevated to achieve a uniform airflow of cool air.

While achieving a lower cost value always carries a lot of public-relations weight, this should not be the end goal for any retailer’s energy-management strategy.

Instead, all companies should be striving for the same thing: better reliability and longevity of IT systems, and a positive impact on the environment.

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