Learning how to make data centers greener might be the best way to put a little more green in your pocket this year.   By Sue Hildreth | January 2008
Last summer, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a report noting data centers account for about 1.5 percent of U.S. energy consumption. Indeed, energy consumption by servers and data centers has doubled over the past five years, and is predicted to double again in the next five. At that point, the total cost for powering U.S. data centers will be $7.4 billion per year. Not surprisingly, CIOs and other executives are increasingly interested in strategies for maximizing energy efficiency. Job seekers interested in data center careers would do well to get familiar with the core issues of "green" data center design and operations. "It's definitely a plus if a candidate for an IT position has some understanding of data center infrastructure, power and cooling issues," says Jeff Lagasse, IT manager North America for the Kingston, R.I., data center operations of American Power Conversion (APC), which sells IT monitoring and management products. Lagasse notes that colleges have not emphasized the design and operations of data centers, so newly graduated job seekers are much more likely to understand coding over cooling. "One problem with the industry, and the education for it, is that the degrees offered are usually not operations degrees but development ones," says Lagasse. "Colleges don't do a good job of teaching the operations side of the business." The upside to that is that it's possible for data center candidates to make a good impression if they master some basic areas of knowledge, such as: Energy and Environmental Monitoring   Many vendors have products for monitoring conditions in servers, server racks and the data center as a whole. Monitoring for problems can prevent a total meltdown of systems, while also alleviating the need to keep air conditioning on high 24 hours a day. By monitoring conditions in different parts of the center and different server racks, it's also possible to pinpoint inefficiencies in the placement of the hardware. Virtualization   "Virtualization can help you reduce server load, and if you can reduce the amount of heat put out by the servers, you can decrease the cooling needed," says Michael Petrino, vice president of PTS Data Services, in Franklin Lakes, N.J. VMware is the primary provider of virtualization software and its product is one data center candidates ought to know about by now, says Lagasse. "VMware has been in the industry long enough to expect to see it in a job description," he says. Petrino agrees: "(Knowing about virtualization) would definitely be a selling point, because companies are talking about it." Data Center Design   When interviewing for a position in data center operations or design, it's a good idea to exhibit some familiarly with environmental issues such as where to run cabling, what type of flooring is best for data centers, and the proper placement of lighting fixtures. One well-known - though not always followed ¿ data-center design standard is the "hot aisle/cold aisle" approach, which separates hot and cold air flows. Cabinets are lined up face-to- face down some aisles, and back to back in alternate aisles. This creates a cool aisle along the fronts, where AC can flow down and cool the servers, and a hot aisle along the backs, where exhaust air is discharged and circulated back to the AC system. "Anyone looking for a professional career in a data center should be familiar with the concept of hot aisle/cold aisle," notes Petrino. Learning Resources   For self-study, many IT vendors have white papers, articles, FAQs and other types of information on their Web sites. IBM, for instance, offers various resources and APC offers publishes white papers on energy-efficient design. Specialist vendors, such as Sensatroics, Eaton Corp. and Avtech ¿ all of which provide environmental monitoring ¿ offer information. Then, there's the Institute for Data Center Professionals (www.IDCP.org), which is affiliated with Marist College's School of Computer Science and Mathematics. In addition, Petrino suggests visiting the Web site of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and AC Engineers. It offers self study courses, online courses, and miscellaneous technical information on heating and cooling technologies and guidelines. Data center air conditioning and ventilation is one of the society's areas of expertise. Since it's not commonly taught at most universities, Lagasse doesn't expect young job candidates to have vast or in-depth knowledge of energy efficiency issues. However, he does appreciate a candidate who is familiar with the concept. "I like to see some understanding of how a data center works, what is the hot aisle theory, how the data center can be set up for cooling ... and the basic technologies out there. If someone came in for an interview and could speak to those things, I'd be pretty impressed," he says. Sue Hildreth is an IT writer based in Waltham, Mass.