Data Centers Waste Lots of Electricity

As a lean devotee, I can’t help but think of what lean can do whenever I hear about waste. And I heard some striking facts about waste recently while attending an energy conference held in New York City by Forbes magazine.

One of the panels at this high-level conference focused on information technology, and most of the discussion focused on how the number of huge data centers is growing rapidly. And those data centers use vast amounts of electricity – inefficiently.

Peter Gross, CEO of EYP Mission Critical Facilities (a division of HP), noted that energy consumption by data centers in the U.S. is doubling every five years. He mentioned a report by Gartner Group that said by 2010, the typical corporation will spend more on energy for its data centers than it spends on servers.

But a lot of that energy is wasted. Gross noted that because of leakage from transmission lines and some other factors, only about one-quarter of the energy coming into a data center actually goes to the servers. Astonishingly, 60 percent of the data centers around the world use more than 150 percent of the power needed by the servers, Gross said.

To make matters worse, the servers are underutilized. Rich Lechner, VP of Energy Efficient Technologies and Services for IBM, said with many servers, only about six percent of capacity is utilized. Gross said this was partly because of redundancies that became part of server design in the 80s and 90s, as a means of improving reliability.

Where does lean come in? I believe that most of the solutions to this problem will come from technology, which is not by itself lean. However, I am also certain that lean tools can help identify the solutions. It might be possible to use some load leveling approaches to improve utilization of servers. And perhaps some mapping could identify where the greatest amounts of electricity are being lost.

Have you ever tried to address these problems? Have lean tools been of any help? Please share your experiences below.

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