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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Improving the Energy Performance of Data Centers


Data centers greatly impact California’s natural environment and economy. These buildings host computer equipment that provide the massive computational power, data storage, and global networking that is integral to modern information technology. The concentration of densely packed computer equipment in data centers leads to power demands that are much higher than those of a typical residence or commercial office building. Data centers typically consume 15 times more energy per square foot than a typical office building and, in some cases, may be 100 times more energy intensive (Greenberg et al. 2003). Nationally, data centers consumed 61 Terawatt hours in 2006; equivalent to the practical power generation of more than 10, 1 Gigawatt nuclear power plants (Brown et al., 2007). This is approximately equal to annual electricity consumption for the entire state of New Jersey (EIA, 2006). California has the largest data center market in the U.S., indicating that a significant portion of this energy is consumed within the State (Mitchell-Jackson, 2001).

This research project focused on identifying how data centers are currently designed and exploring potential energy saving associated with alternative building design options. The energy savings were quantified to understand when design changes resulted in significant benefits and when the benefits from alternative designs were minimal. The potential energy savings benefits were juxtaposed against changes to the environmental conditions in data centers and evaluated within the context of computer reliability concerns. The objective of this research is to provide data center designers and other decision makers with a better understanding of the benefits and concerns associated with data center energy efficiency, thereby reducing the unknown consequences that may hinder attempts to shift away from conventional design practices.

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