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The Impact of Infrastructure on Green Data Centres

In a recent study, Gartner analysts revealed that IT activity accounts for two per cent of global CO2 emissions, equivalent to the amount produced by the aviation industry. We typically think of emissions as coming from forms of transportation, heavy industry and power generation, but with recent work to address global issues we see that in fact, IT and IT related products can have an impact in several areas. Carrie Higbie global director of data centre solutions and services for network infrastructure specialist Siemon, addresses a number of cabling-related areas in which a greener approach to IT is possible.

Globally Green

The drive to reduce emissions and other environmental harm from more "hidden" activities such as IT has spawned a number of international efforts. The most wide reaching initiatives in the IT marketplace are focused on "Green Buildings" - efforts aimed at reducing the environmental impact of commercial and residential spaces. The WGBC (World Green Building Council) currently has ten member nations, with more to likely follow.

While the initial focus is on renewable energy sources, power and energy savings and environmental protection of sites for new and existing buildings; further examination indicates that network cabling and infrastructure will impact the overall effort.

Data Centres & Energy Consumption

Energy conservation efforts are being introduced into the data centre space at an ever-increasing rate with good reason. Current studies show that power alone represents from 30 to 50 per cent of overall data centre budgets. While a portion of the energy is consumed by the actual servers, switches, routers and other active gear, an additional power load is needed to cool this equipment. There is a cycle of cooling to power and power requiring cooling.

In order to have the most efficient cooling, cabling must be properly designed and routed to allow the air to flow in an unobstructed manner. TIA-942 and other complimentary data centre standards around the globe suggest that horizontal and vertical cabling be run accommodating growth so that these areas do not need to be revisited. There are several reasons for this recommendation, including: eliminating the adverse affects of removing floor tiles during MAC work - which can decrease static pressure under raised floors, negatively affecting cooling efficiency and assuring that pathway fill ratios will allow the flow of cold air in cold aisles to be unobstructed by cabling.

A significant number of older data centres and even telecommunications areas have suffered from ill-managed MACs (moves, adds and changes) over the years, leaving abandoned cabling channels behind. These unused channels often create air dams which obstruct air flow, potentially resulting in higher energy consumption as cooling equipment works less efficiently. There may also be issues with the older cabling jackets not meeting current RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) requirements. In many cases, these older cables carry significant fuel load which can pose additional fire threats, and can release toxins such as halogens if ignited.

Although removing and recycling abandoned cable will have a positive green impact, reducing the volume of potentially abandoned channels through proper management is an even better option. Intelligent infrastructure management systems (such as MapIT™), can provide a lights out advantage by allowing detailed monitoring of any MACs made. By providing a consistent and up to date diagram of the physical layer connections, channels can be managed and fully utilized before they become a management headache or a source of unchecked MAC work.

While the ability to keep the cabling channels in check will almost certainly reduce power consumption on the cooling side, intelligent infrastructure management can also reduce power needs of the active network equipment. When designed with a central patching field, an intelligent infrastructure management system can help ensure that all switch ports are utilized - decreasing the power needs for electronics by keeping unused ports to a minimum. The ability to patch into unused ports rather than adding additional switches can provide an energy savings which in turn translates into further cooling savings.

Consider the Lifetime

When installing data cabling, it is in the end-user's best interest to install systems that will provide the maximum longevity. Currently, category 7/class F cabling is the highest performing cabling system on the market, with a category 7A/class FA standard due to publish soon. The latter is characterized to 1000MHz, or 1GHz per channel, which provides a significant amount of bandwidth above and beyond the latest 10Gb/s network speeds for copper. These higher bandwidth cabling systems are completely backwards compatible with older technology.

Siemon has explored the ROI/TCO (return on investment and total cost of ownership) for cabling plants. Our conclusions are that lower-performing cabling will cost significantly more over the entire lifecycle of the cabling plant. When examining the green building initiatives, the reduction of materials that will need to be replaced over time is an even greater incentive to install higher-performing cabling.

Moving to higher performing class F/FA, fully-shielded cabling systems such as TERA® will significantly reduce noise on the cabling channel which can result in a significant power savings in the active electronics by eliminating Digital Signal Processing (DSP) complexity used to suppress noise levels. A study presented jointly by Siemon and KeyEye Communications indicated that the use of fully-shielded cabling could offer a reduction of approximately 20 per cent in the overall power budget related to 10GBASE-T chip architectures. The bulk of these savings would result from a reduction in the levels of DSP complexity associated with NEXT and FEXT cancellers.

Truly Green

Being green takes more than a few power savings. To truly build a green data centre or green building many factors come into play, from length of use to power consumption. Disciplines that have historically been separate entities (namely facilities and networking) now a have a reason to work towards a common goal. Infrastructure represents an area where significant energy and resource savings can be made and environmental impact carefully controlled. The expertise and technology is available - it's now a matter of putting it into action.

About the author

Carrie Higbie has been involved in the computing and networking industries for 25+ years. Carrie currently works with Siemon™ as the global director of data centre solutions and services. She participates with the IEEE, TIA and various consortiums for standards acceptance. She has extensive background in all aspects of networking and application development as a consultant, project manager, and Fortune 500 executive and has taught at a collegiate level. She speaks at industry events and has published several articles and whitepapers globally. Carrie holds an MBA and MSBA. Carrie is an expert in TechTarget's Searchnetworking, SearchEnterpriseVoice and SearchDataCenters forums and is on the board of advisors. She writes a weekly column on a variety of topics. She is the President of the BladeSystems Alliance. Carrie has won the US "Communication News" Editor's Choice Award for the last two years.

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