Study: Modular Data Centers Reduce Energy Waste, Save Water, Eliminate CO2 – And Save Money

In a technical paper released today, IO Group Leader of Sustainability Patrick Flynn describes the first-ever study to accurately and effectively compare the energy use of a modular data center to the energy use of a traditional raised floor data center. (Spoiler alert: The modular data center was found to reduce energy costs by 19%, save 1 million gallons of water, and eliminate 620 metric tons of carbon dioxide per MW of IT.)

In 2013, IO partnered with Arizona Public Service Company (APS), the largest electric utility in Arizona, and DNV KEMA (now DNV GL), the leading authority in energy-related testing, inspection and certification to find out whether the modular data center or traditional raised floor data center is more energy efficient.

We’ve talked about the results of the study before, but they bear repeating, because they’re incredible:

  • 44% reduction in energy waste
  • 19% energy cost savings – annual savings of over $220,000 per MW of IT power load
  • 1 million gallons of water saved
  • 620 metric tons of carbon dioxide eliminated

In a new technical paper released today, IO Group Leader of Sustainability Patrick Flynn explains in detail why the study was so groundbreaking and what the results mean for data center customers.

The first true apples-to-apples comparison of modular v. raised floor data center energy efficiency

Understanding the efficiency of a modular data center versus a raised floor data center is important for IT leaders to be able to make the most cost-efficient and sustainable data center choice. Yet, as Flynn wrote, “it is difficult to compare the performance of one data center to another due to differences in design, geography, customer type, measurement method and other factors – not to mention the credibility of the claims.”

This first-of-its-kind study compared a modular data center and a raised floor data center in an otherwise identical environment. The true apples-to-apples comparison was made possible by the fact that IO operates both traditional and modular environments side-by-side in our 587,000-square-foot data center at IO.Phoenix. Three parameters, in particular, enabled researchers to draw a fair comparison: 1) same geography; 2) same chiller plant; and 3) same building, same envelope.

What the results mean for data center customers

Over the course of the year-long study, the traditional raised floor environment had a PUE of 1.73, while the modular data center environment had a PUE of 1.41. PUE, or Power Usage Effectiveness, is a measure of the total amount of power consumed by the data center relative to the amount of power consumed by the IT equipment.

To be fair, 1.41 is not as low as other claims in industry, but according to a 2014 Uptime Institute study, the average self-reported PUE is 1.7. And, some of IO’s individual customers have PUEs even lower than 1.41. But that’s part of the appeal of the study – it takes real-world usage as its input data. (In the industry, there are messages about what possible PUEs can be achieved, but less often do the numbers reflect observed efficiency in an operational colocation environment.)

And it’s the difference between the raised floor environment and the modular environment that stands out – a 44% reduction in non-IT energy use with the modular environment. (The ideal value for PUE is 1.0 and anything above that can be considered energy overhead, or energy not used by IT but used by other systems. That value was .41 in the modular environment compared to .73 in the raised floor environment. That’s a 44% reduction.)

For the data center customer, that translates to a 19% energy cost savings – significant given that energy costs are typically the largest single operational expense a data center customer has. The estimated cost reduction amounted to more than $220,000 per megawatt (MW) of IT power load per year based on the site’s electricity rate at the time ($0.07/kWh).

Flynn stresses that you can’t overstate the significance of these results because of the increasingly important role of data centers in our modern economy. Our businesses and infrastructure are being digitized, and that digital work takes place within the walls of a data center.

As Flynn says, “When introducing a new technology platform, demonstrating a financial benefit is critical to adoption, but in the face of such challenges in performance benchmarking it can be difficult to prove superior operating costs.”

Not anymore.

For more, download Flynn’s technical paper, which details the outcome of the study and positions its significance in a world in which data center energy efficiency is increasingly critical. https://www.io.com/portfolio/pue-faceoff/

Related Data Center Energy Efficiency Blog Posts

Data Center Water Use: A Broader Conversation
Data Center Efficiency is About Economics and the Environment
Yes, NRDC, Data Center Efficiency Matters – And Here’s What’s Being Done
IO Intelligent Control Platform More Energy Efficient in Arizona Installation (press release)