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Greening IT: Big Data has Big Energy Appetite

CeBIT 2012 Technology Trade Fair

With the proliferation of smart phones, smart TVs, smart meters, smart grids and the “internet of things,” comes enormously energy-intensive data transfer, storage and management requirements. Data centers are rapidly expanding – in number of facilities and square footage – and these centers all have fairly significant power and cooling demand requirements.

Green IT Amsterdam is a “networking non-profit” that partners with IT businesses, government agencies, academic institutions and related companies on ways to sustainably manage this explosion of data and data centers.

The Netherlands is a data hub, “we have about 60 large data centers in the [Amsterdam] region.” … “And a large part of the international internet traffic is coming through,” these data centers, Maikel Bouricius, Green IT Project Manager, told a group of journalists during a recent renewable energy media tour through Holland. “Those data centers are traditionally using a lot of energy,” he said.

The Netherlands is one of the world’s largest internet hubs and one of the largest in Europe, with London and Frankfurt being two others. Bouricius works with roughly 50 mostly private company partners to improve data center energy efficiency through improvements to cooling, lighting and facilities management.

“Since the early 2000’s, the city [of Amsterdam] has been working on greening the data centers,” Bouricius explained. And the centers are rapidly growing, increasing floor space by about 10% annually over the past several years.

And while Green IT Amsterdam has been successful at managing regional data center energy consumption – keeping it well below consumption levels of centers in other regions – one of the next steps will be using renewable energy generation to power data centers. The Netherlands’ highly-populated nature and associated space limitations present a challenge.

Google has been a leader in using renewables to power data centers, but there is more space in the US to site wind and solar power projects, Bouricius pointed out. Renewables often face a difficult business case today in the face of historically cheap natural gas and coal, he said.

So called “lazy coding” in which large-format images or other data are transferred and stored represents an energy savings opportunity. Green IT is also looking into upstream smart grid solutions that use software to more efficiently use and distribute power, said Bouricius.

Many of the efficiency solutions the organization deals with are not new, but applying them to the data center market is a new trend, he explained.

The Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid for Breaking Energy’s travel and accommodations, but had no editorial input in the formulation of this article.

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