By: Maya Ber Lerner, Vice President of Product Management, QualiSystems

newlogoData centers have emerged as one of the largest and fastest growing energy hogs in the country, consuming roughly 2% of all U.S. electricity each year.

Web giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon have invested heavily in ultra-efficient data centers to scale their global business models. The real energy problem for the IT industry involves data centers at small, medium, and corporate businesses — they are much less efficient than the Internet giants, and yet they consume the vast majority of the country’s data center energy.

Consider that U.S. data centers burned through 91 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2013, and that total is expected to top 140 billion kWh by 2020. By then, American data centers will require the equivalent annual output of 34 large, 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants to operate. That level of energy consumption will cost $13 billion in electricity bills and generate 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually, according to research from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Based on those numbers, energy efficiency has become a central concern for IT departments of all types and sizes. One strategy to address this problem involves CIOs and IT managers automatically turning off infrastructure with power distribution units (PDUs) that control energy supplies in data centers.

Some commonly used PDUs are available from hardware makers such as ServerTech, Raritan and APC. Think of PDUs as smart power strips with built-in software functionality. Although they’re smart, PDUs cannot manage energy consumption alone because they need an automated controller to give them instructions about IT usage and activities.

The challenge involves getting the context in which the data center infrastructure is being used, and making power control an integral part of the overall data center automation. It is hard to make smart decisions about when to turn infrastructure on and off without knowing what it is used for, and when, and connecting that usage to the business value. This is especially evident in facilities where there is a fast turnaround of projects or activities, like development and test facilities, demo, and support or training centers.

By combining PDUs with automation software, IT managers can slash their energy use through better management of overall infrastructure activities. This results in a win-win-win situation based on energy savings, cost savings, and pollution reductions. In addition to these direct savings, IT managers can get better visibility into their overall infrastructure usage, which presents new opportunities to drive further efficiency gains.