3 Strategies for Data Center Power Savings, Efficiency, and Sustainability

June 26, 2024
3 data center strategies

Data centers have long been known as energy-intensive market players. And thanks to the expansion of remote work, high-speed streaming and the proliferation of many digital and AI tools, U.S. demand for data center capacity has skyrocketed over recent years and expects a 10% increase per year until 2030. 

While data center operators are implementing aggressive actions like efficiency-focused retrofits to help curb energy usage, future-focused data centers must be able to support the increasing demand for more data, faster service, AI, cloud solutions, and more while minimizing their physical footprint. The larger a data center’s footprint, the more expensive it is to build it, maintain it, and manage its environmental impact. 

The Rising Demand vs. Cost Management Challenge 

With this demand increase comes many caveats. Today, data centers are grappling with various obstacles, potentially impacting their ability to operate reliably, manage costs and demonstrate resilience when it matters most. Several factors affecting these data hubs include: 

  • Limited access to power in several locations
  • Rising energy prices due to increased energy consumption
  • Increased pressure from investors, customers and regulatory bodies to reduce carbon emissions
  • The rise in frequency and severity of power outages

Data centers must meet rising compute power demands while practicing operational efficiency and sustainability to aid ambitious clean energy usage targets, drive down costs, tackle corporate responsibility, and improve disaster resilience.  

Here are three ways data centers can save money and prepare themselves for workload-driven energy consumption in 2024:

1. Do More with Less Space 

The more power an operator can fit into a smaller real estate footprint, the lower real estate costs are relative to the revenue generated. Data centers typically categorize space into two categories: ‘white space,’ indicating areas with equipment that increases capacity and so directly makes a profit, and ‘gray space,’ back-end support systems that do not directly generate profit – for instance, generators and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. 

Minimizing gray space with smaller, power-dense equipment allows operators to maximize the profit-driving white space. Profitable upgrades include replacing older, less efficient infrastructure equipment with newer, more efficient technologies. While the initial investment may seem high, upgrading to more efficient equipment will ultimately lower long-term costs.  

 Upgrading the UPS battery system is a great place to start. Choosing a UPS battery with a higher power density reduces the gray space required, because fewer battery cabinets are needed to meet the data center’s power demand. Look for a battery cabinet with the smallest linear footprint per watt so you can pack more power in less space and free up room for additional servers – or even a smaller overall facility. Non-flammable chemistries, such as nickel-zinc, also eliminate the need for additional safety equipment, permitting, and space considerations required by lithium-ion batteries. This can further lower battery system footprints. 

2. Avoid Expensive Outages 

Research from The Uptime Institute has found that outages are becoming longer and more costly, with one in five organizations reportedly experiencing a significant outage in the past three years. 

However, 43 percent of outages in a data center are caused by the failure of the UPS system itself. Many batteries can fail open or with a high impedance path, which prevents the battery from supporting the critical UPS load. 

Nickel-zinc batteries’ greater reliability makes them ideal for use in a data center. In contrast to other battery chemistries, a weak or depleted cell in the battery string will continue to discharge and carry the load. All that’s needed is a simple battery replacement at the next planned maintenance cycle: little cost, and no operational impact. Nickel-zinc batteries help data centers protect themselves against the high costs of power backup failures. 

Nickel-zinc batteries also do not go into thermal runaway. This safety advantage reduces site risk, which addresses potential insurance concerns and eases the approval process by Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). As a result, NiZn batteries don’t need the safety equipment for greenfield or retrofits required for lithium-ion batteries. Instead, they are a convenient drop-in replacement for lead-acid batteries in data centers.

3. Run equipment at higher operating temperatures to reduce the need for cooling

Today, data centers dedicate a significant portion of their operating budgets toward facility cooling. Recently, data center operators including colocation giant Equinix, Meta, and Microsoft have begun employing flexible temperature strategiesand operating at higher temperatures to reduce costs. 

While operating cooling systems at higher temperatures can lower energy load and reduce costs, it requires a balancing act to avoid the risk of shortened equipment lifespan, safety issues, and voided product warranties. Fortunately, current technology allows data centers to reduce cooling system investments, improve sustainability, and lower costs while maintaining operational reliability and safety. 

For instance, nickel-zinc UPS battery cabinets can operate at higher temperatures than their counterparts. Modular designs pose an opportunity to create climate-specific environments for the UPS and battery systems. By utilizing nickel-zinc batteries, these rooms can operate at higher temperatures and offer the combined benefits of lower CapEx for lower-capacity cooling systems, and reduced OpEx over the life of the cooling system. As high-temperature events increase in frequency due to climate change, investing in battery systems that can withstand harsher environments in 10-15 years is a distinct advantage for facilities being built today. 

More Resilient, Cost-Effective Data Centers

As data center demand skyrockets, facilities must prioritize actions that will help drive down costs, increase operational efficiency, and help meet sustainability targets. Those who do this first can enjoy the advantages of meeting the growing appetite for data while converting savings and efficiencies into profits.

Previously Published by Intelligent Data Centres

Tim Hysell, ZincFive CEO
Tim Hysell
Co-Founder & CEO, ZincFive
Tim has over three decades of entrepreneurial success in founding, owning, and directing profitable business operations in renewable energy, banking, manufacturing, and medical devices. His companies partnered with global giants such as Siemens, Phillips, and Hewlett-Packard. Prior to owning his own businesses, Tim worked for General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, and Providence Health Systems. Tim is also a co-founder and board member of Pacific West Bank in Oregon.