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RFID Can Reduce Data-Center Energy Consumption

The Internet and an insatiable demand for online connectivity are fueling explosive growth in energy consumption by server farms, but RFID-enabled sensors can help.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 01, 2012The New York Times ran a front-page article on Sunday, Sept. 23, titled "Power, Pollution and the Internet." According to the article, "data centers [in the United States] used about 76 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010, or roughly 2 percent of all electricity used in the country that year."

RFID Journal recently reported that data centers worldwide were expected to consume 19 percent more energy during the next 12 months than they had throughout the past year, according to a report released in September 2011 by DatacenterDynamics, a London-based research firm (see RFID Energy-Management Systems for Data Centers). The greatest increases in energy use are expected to occur in major U.S. and European markets. A significant number of the organizations queried by DatacenterDynamics predicted that increased energy costs will impact their data-center operations during the next 12 months.

The Times article focuses on the problems of 24-hour uptime and the underutilization of servers. The story reports that Gartner, a technology research firm, surveyed a large sample of data centers and found that typical utilizations ran between 7 percent and 12 percent. That's an appallingly low rate, but it's not the only problem. Many data centers are overcooled, since IT departments don't want to risk infuriating customers by having servers overheat and go down. In fact, some estimates are that for every megawatt directed toward powering a data center, another 0.5 megawatt to 1 megawatt is consumed in maintaining proper temperature levels. Because it's impossible to know the temperature at any one location within a room, most companies simply turn the air conditioning up high.

There are wired environmental sensors that can track temperatures around server racks, but these are expensive to install. Wireless monitoring systems that utilize radio frequency identification and sensor technologies can be installed quickly and less expensively. They can gather environmental information in real time, in order to help companies better manage energy consumption within a data center.

California's Franchise Tax Board, in Sacramento, deployed an RFID-based environmental-monitoring system in 2008, and saw cooling costs drop by nearly 75 percent. Based on the savings achieved, the state's Department of General Services (DGS) equipped 12 of its data centers with the same RFID temperature-control system (see California Data Centers Expect to Cut Energy Usage By 75 Percent).

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