Berkeley Lab Study Shows Data Center Industry’s Commitment to Power Efficiency Paying Off

Berkeley study says data center power utilization improving.
Berkeley study says data center power utilization improving.

A US Department of Energy report indicates that the data center industry is far more energy efficient than it was a decade ago. That’s no surprise to anyone familiar with the industry. A recent federally-backed study on energy usage in data centers shows not just marginal progress, but a massive improvement in the efficiency of data center power utilization.

Though no surprise to anyone in the data center industry, to the casual observer the results of this study are likely eye-opening. In 2012 The New York Times carried a lengthy article that was highly critical of the data center industry, pointing out instances of energy waste and alleging widespread power inefficiency. Environmental media properties and even some in the mainstream media were resorting to terms like “power pigs” when referring to data centers.

Informed critics pointed out that the Times was using outdated, anecdotal evidence and that the industry had been responding to the challenge of energy efficiency very aggressively for several years by the time that article was published.

Based on the release of a study undertaken by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that aggressive response has been exceptionally effective. The Berkeley Lab study estimates the levels of data center industry power usage from 2000-2020. After a decade of explosive growth data center energy use reached nearly 2% of all U.S. electricity consumption in 2010. Since then, even as the demand for IT infrastructure services has skyrocketed, the overall percentage of energy used by data centers has remained relatively steady, and is estimated to be 1.8% of all energy usage in 2014.

As IT infrastructure demand skyrocketed, data center electricity usage is estimated to have grown nearly 90% from 2000-2005 and 24% from 2005-2010. Energy efficiency efforts began to bear fruit around 2010, and electrical usage is estimated to have grown by 4% from 2010-2014 and projects to grow another 4% from 2014-2020.

More efficient server utilization, virtualization and the adoption of hyper-scale cloud and multi-tenant data center solutions have all contributed to the improvement, as have advancements in data center cooling. A key statement from the report illustrates the results:

“The combination of these efficiency trends has resulted in a relatively steady U.S data center electricity demand over the past 5 years, with little growth expected for the remainder of this decade. It is important to note that this near constant electricity demand across the decade is occurring while simultaneously meeting a drastic increase in demand for data center services; data center electricity use would be significantly higher without these energy efficiency improvements.”

Accompanying that statement on page 8 of the report is a chart that estimates that at a 2010 level of efficiency, data centers would project to be utilizing nearly three times as much electricity as they are now anticipated to consume.

Vast amounts of research and work toward energy efficiency in the data center industry have clearly paid off. Over the last decade efficiencies have been gained and wasteful practices reduced. The results are staggering. When it comes to energy efficiency, those in the data center industry have a lot to be proud of.