Data center power consumption 101: What to know about powering data centers

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Learn about data center energy usage and the ways that companies are working to reduce their environmental impact

March 16, 20237 mins
Data Center Power Consumption 101: What to Know About Powering Data Centers

Take a moment to think about your daily life. How many times a day do you access the Internet to store a work file, stream a movie, navigate to an address or Facetime with a friend?

Technology is part of everything we do. As our reliance on technology continues to grow, so too does our need for data centers.

These facilities are important for processing and storing the massive amounts of data that we create and use every day. They are the backbone of our digital world, powering our businesses and enabling much of our daily lives.

Data Center Power Consumption

Data centers require a lot of energy to function, leading to concerns about their environmental impact. In fact, according to The Climate Neutral Group, they consume almost 3% of the world's electricity and are responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions. That’s almost as much as the airline industry.

These facilities use a lot of energy due to several factors, including cooling, the demand for high-performance computing, and the constant volume of data that is processed and stored. It’s no wonder then that energy use is one of the largest operational costs.

When it comes to colocation providers like Iron Mountain Data Centers, it’s important to understand that the vast majority of power consumed comes from the ecosystem of customers that reside inside the colocation facility. Customers rent rack space to house their IT infrastructure, and this requires 24/7 power and cooling of their equipment.

Data Center Renewable Energy

Most of the world’s power is still generated by non-renewable fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas, and is still used to power most utility grids.

However, there has been a growing trend towards using renewable energy sources to power data centers, such as wind, solar and hydropower.

Many companies have made commitments to use renewable energy sources. At Iron Mountain Data Centers, our colocation facilities have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy since 2017. We are committed to sustainable solutions that help green the grid for everyone.

We play an important role in our clients’ supply chain when they look at their total energy footprint. By operating their equipment inside an Iron Mountain facility, our customers are able to recognize their energy use as renewable and claim it as 100 percent green energy when completing their annual disclosures.

Our Green Power Pass (GPP) is a renewable energy reporting solution that is the first of its kind in the industry. GPP customers receive an annual certificate verifying that 100 percent of the green power they use at our colocation facilities can support their goals to decarbonize and their environmental reporting.

As a top 30 purchaser of renewable energy in the United States, we have developed strong renewable energy capabilities and continue to emphasize the importance of carbon free energy on our path to net zero emissions.

In 2021, we set a goal to go beyond our existing practice of meeting our annual electricity volume with 100% renewable power. By 2040 all Iron Mountain Data Centers will secure locally produced clean energy to match every hour of our consumption, everywhere. We are pioneers in this effort to fully decarbonize our consumption.

We were the first colocation signatory to The Climate Pledge and the only provider in the world committed to meeting every kilowatt hour of usage with local carbon free energy, every hour of each day, everywhere -- committing to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Climate Accord.

Renewable Energy Makes Business Sense

Using renewable energy sources has a lower impact on the environment, but it also makes good business sense.

Locations that rely on renewable energy tend to have lower operating costs in the long run. Renewable energy sources including wind, solar and hydro power can be cheaper than traditional energy sources like coal and natural gas. By using renewable energy, power costs decrease, saving money on energy bills.

Using renewable energy sources can also be more reliable than traditional energy sources. Colocation facilities can diversify their energy sources by using a mix of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro power. This reduces their reliance on a single source of energy, which can be subject to disruptions.

Renewable energy sources are available in most parts of the world, and many of these sources are inexhaustible. Solar power provides electricity during the day and wind power provides a consistent source of energy often times at night, thereby complementing generation from solar.

Using renewable energy can help an organization meet its sustainability goals as all companies rely on electricity. IT is something we can all focus on to reduce our emissions, and eery day, more and more organizations make sustainability commitments.

Finally, as more people see the importance of protecting our planet's future, working toward a carbon free data center is viewed as a positive development. By powering facilities with renewable energy, organizations can save money, reduce their environmental impact, work toward sustainability goals and ensure a positive image.

Data Center Efficiency

When considering data center energy costs, it's important to evaluate energy efficiency.

These facilities house equipment that requires a lot of power, but there are several ways that customers can ensure their IT equipment is operating more efficiently.

One method to increase data center energy efficiency is to use virtualization technology. This technology allows multiple virtual servers to run on a single physical server, which reduces the amount of hardware needed and decreases energy consumption. Another important factor is using energy-efficient hardware, including servers with low-power processors and solid-state drives instead of traditional hard drives.PUE - or power usage effectiveness - is the global standard for measuring the energy efficiency of a data center. First, the facility must look at the amount of energy used by IT equipment in the location. Then it compares that to the power consumption of the total facility. The goal is to maximize how much power the IT equipment uses and minimize how much power is consumed by the facility's support systems, such as cooling, lights and power distribution. A lower PUE means a more efficient data center.

Building Energy-Efficient Data Centers

Colocation facilities must work to ensure the operation is running as efficiently as possible.

One important factor in power cost is the constant need for cooling. Servers and IT equipment generate a lot of heat, and cooling systems are needed to prevent overheating and damage to the equipment.

Cooling often accounts for 40% of a data center's energy usage - and that dramatically increases data center electricity consumption - so efficient cooling systems are key for lowering data center power costs. There are several efficient cooling system available, including the use of outside air for cooling, utilizing liquid cooling systems and using hot/cold aisle containment to reduce air mixing. At our underground facility in Boyers, PA, we use geothermally cooled water from an underground lake to cool the facility.

Operators can build with energy efficiency in mind. We plan to have all new construction of multi-tenant facilities certified by 2025 to the BREEAM Green Building Standard, the world's leading science-based suite of validation and certification systems for sustainable built environment.

Eco-Friendly Data Centers: What Does the Future Hold

There's no doubt that powering data centers is a complex and challenging task, but there are many ways to make them more sustainable and energy efficient. Innovation is key. For example, at our Amsterdam location, we are working closely with local authorities to develop a system where the facility's waste heat will be re-used to heat nearby communities.

Using renewable energy sources, energy-efficient hardware and efficient cooling systems are just a few examples of the ways we can reduce the environmental impact. By following these sustainable practices, we can ensure that we have the data centers we need for our digital lives while reducing their impact on the planet.