The numbers are startling. Currently, 4 percent of the North American power supply is consumed by datacenters powering the Internet, and by 2008, 50 percent of those datacenters will have insufficient cooling and power capacity to meet the demands of high-density equipment, according to Gartner Inc.. In short, power costs will outpace the price tag on IT infrastructure, meaning that the Internet's carbon footprint is growing while threatening the growth of the industries that depend on it.
Ceres (pronounced "series"), a national leader in pressuring corporations into environmentally sustainable practices, works with companies through its network of investors and environmental organizations to address challenges like global warming by evaluating companies' total carbon-dioxide emissions. Yet, even with 17 years of experience in determining environmentally sound corporate practices, Ceres has yet to address the datacenter energy crisis.
Luckily, the Internet is a next-generation economy with next-generation solutions. Instead of denying the problem exists, like the petroleum and automotive industries, the information-based economy has tackled the problem head-on, applying solutions directly to its forehead.
In 2006, Google secretly relocated its datacenters to the rural Oregon nexus of fiber-optic infrastructure and cheap, renewable, hydroelectric energy, only to find that the National Security Agency had secretly beat the search-engine giant to the power-and-IT-backbone punch by an undisclosed number of years. Since then, companies like Yahoo, Ask.com and others have joined the Google rush to rural Oregon, searching for their once-hefty ROIs (return on investment), which have steadily been eaten away by rising energy costs.
Across the country, IT companies headquartered in metropolitan areas are looking for datacenter locations with cheaper energy in order to lower power costs. Yet relocation isn't enough to improve efficiency; IT pros are employing an array of tools to reduce power consumption, including virtualization, scalability, more efficient data storage, and better management of power and cooling. Together, this cocktail of solutions is helping companies reduce their carbon footprint and reclaim some of the ROI that had been consumed by their power bills.
A 40 percent energy reduction from a medium-sized (25,000 square foot) datacenter equals removing 850 cars from the road per year, according to IBM, but some in the next-generation-datacenter-solution business have taken efficiency a step further. To many IT executives, reducing their company's dependence on the carbon-producing power grid isn't enough. To them, only a green datacenter will truly solve the Internet's dependence on carbon-based fuel.
CityNAP, a carrier-neutral Network Access Point in San Antonio, became the first 100-percent green-powered datacenter in Texas, buying its power from the local utility's wind farm. Cisco Systems Inc. currently buys 22 percent of its power from renewable, green sources, and Sprint Nextel has signed a five-year contract with Kansas City Power and Light to generate 47 percent of the telecommunication giant's power needs from the latter's Spearville Wind Generation Facility.
This purchase makes Sprint Nextel a part of the Environnmental Protection Agency's prestigious Green Power Leadership Club and is equivalent to avoiding more than 121 million pounds of carbon dioxide — or the same amount of electricity needed to power more than 7,000 average American homes — each year.
The NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) is a research facility that helps facilitate this shift from carbon-based power to green, renewable energy. The NREL generates power on-site from renewable energy sources, generating as much as 22.38 kilowatts of grid-connected solar power, producing on average about 37,000 kilowatt-hours of green power each year — more than enough to meet the electrical needs of the NREL Web site.
IBM has long seen the pragmatic (rather than the NREL's idealistic) advantages of high-efficiency, green datacenter technology. IBM boasts it can reduce power costs to datacenters by 15 to 40 percent, simply by updating the center's infrastructure with its products. IBM's "cool battery," an ice cube for your datacenter, won a 2007 ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers Inc.) Technology Award and provides a 40 to 50 percent improvement in chiller efficiency while shifting up to 30 percent of power usage out of peak time.
The computer giant has also built 35 percent of all green, "intelligent buildings" in Japan and won top awards for smart building designs in China — buildings that use sunlight and outside air to cool and power the building, reducing energy costs by 30 percent.
At this pace, the IT industry will soon be removing as many cars from the road as the automotive and petroleum industries are putting onto them.