The IoT Can Improve Data Center Efficiency—If Customers Don't Stand in the Way

Sensors inside data centers can work double-duty, tracking assets and monitoring the environment to guide energy-savings programs. But making a real dent in energy usage requires commitment from data centers and their customers.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

"In a co-located data center, you might have 100 customers' servers installed in 10 racks," Whitney explained. "Each has its own service-level agreement. Most might say 'we want temperatures set on 75,' but one might say 'we want temperatures set at 70.'"

According to Whitney, having invested heavily in energy-management systems and server-utilization strategies, some "progressive" data center operators, such as Supernap, are starting to turn the tide, by essentially dictating some of the basic energy-usage terms to their clients. This allows such firms to improve overall energy performance.

Intelligent sensor networks can play an important role in both reducing a data center's carbon footprint and helping track and account for the highly valuable assets and data stored within. But in co-located data centers, they cannot, on their own, save energy. That step comes from data center operators and clients establishing service-level agreements that maximize efficiency and cut through the perception that data centers should be cold, no matter what.

Jenkins told me that in the past, "no one cared how cold they ran their data centers—waste hasn't been an issue." And it seems that attitude has not really changed.

Last year, the Uptime Institute surveyed more than 1,000 global data center operators, and only half of all North American respondents said they considered energy efficiency to be very important. If data centers begin realigning incentives to save energy and their customers get to share in the fruits of optimally run data centers, this attitude will change. After all, the NRDC report concluded that even if only half of existing energy-reduction potential could be realized, data centers and their customers could share in savings of $3.8 billion annually.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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