Month: May 2011

Kevin Cope, Head of Building Operations at Imperial College, shares his thoughts:

The challenge of this particular project is to improve on what is already two reasonably efficient “data centre” computer rooms (with power utilization efficiency, or PUE, of 1.52 and 1.32), and perhaps influencing other “data centres” to adopt any improvements we can establish.

Working within Facilities Management I’m learning a lot about how such facilities function and their potential influencing factors, but one single fact suprises me and it is this:
We have a central “data centre” facility which is well supported, backed-up, environmentally controlled with excellent support staff, and this must be the most efficient, sustainable and cost effective approach to managing large quantities of data storage or processing, yet there is still a myriad of smaller “data farms”, “clusters”, which academic groups maintain, scattered around our College buildings. Such facilities require local focused cooling, additional maintenance and support, surely this doesn’t make sense and is certainly not the most efficient and sustainable solution!

Where do we start?

To start with the project we should establish a baseline and make an assessment of available options:

Two Imperial College computer rooms, which host around 2,500 servers for Imperial College London, Natural History Museum, Royal College of Music and Janet-LMN point-of-presence, consume about 7,500 MWh annually at a cost of around £500,000. Computer rooms housed in a traditional 1960’s building and there are design considerations and constraints to be taken into account. There is also a computer room in level 2 of Huxley which is assumed to consume around a third of the energy of the Mechanical Engineering computer rooms but this room is out of scope for the project.

Virtualisation has helped to contain the growth in power consumption of Business servers but step changes in adding more High-Performance modules and Research servers resulted in a steady increase. Here is the graph to show number of computer rooms server units (includes High-Performance modules, Research and Business servers):

ME Computer Room servers vs Power Consumption
ME Computer Room servers vs Power Consumption

We would be looking at 5% reduction of annual energy consumption through the use of the following options, or their combination:

  • Organise “cold aisles” and evacuation of hot air from “hot spots”
  • Energy recovery system, free cooling
  • Temperature adjustment of computer room AC units
  • Adjustment of other parameters of AC units
  • Smaller UPS unit
  • Improved solar radiation control (windows films/coating)
  • Improved air/coolant flow (filters, fans, pipes, ducts and ductwork)
  • Improved lighting control (to be able to switch on and off selected areas only)
  • Improved energy efficiency of lighting devices themselves
  • Electrical mains transformer efficiency improvement
  • Mains voltage adjustment (if feasible)

We believe those marked in blue should be looked at in more detail and assessed first. We would like a payback within 3 years which sets the total budget for the project to around £90,000 which includes £22,350 of JISC funding.

Annual Electricity Bill for Computer Rooms
Annual Electricity Bill for Computer Rooms

Computer Room Efficiency Improvement project

JISC logoWe see more and more that issues of sustainability appear on Higher Education agendas. And rightly so. Energy consumption is probably one of the largest single expense in Estates and ICT budgets. Recognizing this JISC have started the Greening ICT Programme and we were very keen to take part in it. It could not be timed any better – with tighter budgets and pressure to reduce long-term costs there are opportunities and drive to do more within public organizations.

Imperial College runs a Carbon Management initiative which has a separate project, Computer Room Efficiency Improvement (project no 24), and decided it had a very good match to the objectives of Strand II of the Greening ICT Programme and it would be a good opportunity to submit our proposal and jointly fund the project. And now, with funding available, we are in a position to start the project.