By Nathan Sykes,

Modern data centers require enormous amounts of energy. Such facilities account for approximately two percent of all electricity usage in the U.S. It might not seem like much, but it represents a significant impact on our nation’s power grid — and the problem is only expected to get worse. Thankfully, data center operators are already taking steps to minimize their carbon footprints and lessen their impact on power plants across the country.

1. Using Alternative Data Storage Systems

Many facilities rely on cache servers to store their customers’ data. While they’re flexible and resilient enough for most scenarios, these servers typically use random access memory — RAM — as their primary storage system.

Transitioning to flash-based memory is one alternative for data centers. It’s already common in the consumer market. Most modern smartphones, USB thumb drives and memory cards use the technology.

Flash memory has many benefits over RAM. Not only is it cheaper and capable of storing more data in less space, but it’s more efficient too. When comparing a gigabyte of memory, most flash-based systems consume five percent less energy than a comparable RAM-based system.

The primary drawback of flash memory is its speed. It’s much slower than RAM and performs at a crawl when compared to next-gen forms of RAM such as DRAM or dynamic RAM. It seems a combination of both flash and RAM is the best and most efficient approach — for now.

2. Utilizing the Surrounding Environment

Some of the more eco-conscious data centers are bolstering energy efficiency using their surrounding environment. There are numerous strategies to consider, but some of them are dependent on the facility’s geographic location.

A data center in France — known as OVH Roubaix 4 — operates without any air conditioning. This might seem unusual, especially since data centers are known for producing massive amounts of heat and usually have no choice but to counteract that with forced air.

Instead, OVH designed their latest facility as a hollow cube. Not only does this design offer built-in ventilation, but the data center also leverages water cooling to supplement the natural heat dissipation.

In 2010, Yahoo! constructed a data center based on the premise of a traditional chicken coop. The final result is a facility that benefits from 99 percent natural cooling and a vast reduction in annual power consumption.

German engineers recently devised an ingenious way to transfer the heat of server cabinets to nearby homes and businesses. Not only does the system reduce the cooling needs of typical data centers, but it results in a smaller carbon footprint for the surrounding communities too.

3. Updating Hardware

Just like with consumer systems, data centers can also benefit from updating and upgrading their internal hardware.

Updating your data center is important for several reasons. Coding errors and bugs are often left undiscovered until after a product is released, so developers often introduce patches and updates to fix such problems. In some cases, developers add brand new functionality through patches.

But sometimes a hardware update isn’t enough. Equipment grows old. New devices and products hit the market with astounding frequency. Data center operators who want to achieve the maximum amount of energy efficiency have no other choice but to update their servers to include the latest and greatest hardware of the time.

These upgrades aren’t limited to the mission-critical hardware of a data center. Switching from fluorescent lights to LEDs is an easy way to increase a facility’s energy efficiency. Many of the tricks that are popular around the home are easily transferrable and applicable.

Getting a Jumpstart on the Future of Energy Efficiency

The future is all about sustainability and efficiency. With hardware getting smaller, companies embracing sustainability and consumers boycotting fossil fuels in record numbers, there’s a clear shift taking place. Tech-savvy data center operators can capitalize on this trend and gain an edge over their competition by promoting energy efficiency and setting an example for others to follow.

About the Author

Nathan Sykes writes about business technologies on his blog, Finding an Outlet. To read his latest articles, follow him on Twitter @nathansykestech.