Reducing energy costs through power efficiency. 

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Rising energy prices are impacting everyone across the country. As heating costs and electricity bills reach new, unprecedented heights, thousands are left worried about keeping their homes warm in winter. For businesses, the effects are being felt by organisations of all sizes, across numerous industries, including SMEs where 44% state that higher prices are unsustainable and manufacturers, with 60% finding the rising energy costs ‘business threatening’.

However, these aren’t the only sectors in which rising costs are having a severe impact on businesses. Organisations with a data centre or test lab will also have extremely power-intensive equipment running 24/7, now costing more than double what they did historically, leading to huge amounts of unplanned expenditure for sectors like network operators, network equipment manufacturers, broadcasters and even some government departments. In many cases these are not costs that can be passed onto clients easily or quickly, especially where they are part of existing contracts, meaning many organisations are bearing the brunt of the additional costs directly. As a result of these rising operating costs, there are now expected to be further delays to the rollout of 5G in Europe. In due course, this will also undoubtedly result in long term price increases to the consumers of these services. 

For those using data centres and test labs, simply switching equipment off generally isn’t a viable option. The key to reducing energy costs, without downgrading the services offered to customers, is to make current processes more efficient. This can be achieved through much improved visibility of power usage and the implementation of lab automation software. 

INCREASE AWARENESS, LOWER COSTS 

The fact that data centres consume a lot of energy will come as no surprise. A recent report from Ericsson found that global mobile data traffic had reached around 67 Exabytes per month by the end of 2021 – and is predicted to reach 282 Exabytes per month in 2027. This, combined with the figures included in IEA’s report on data centres revealing global data centre electricity use in 2021 was 220-320 Terawatts, gives a clear indication that these energy demands will continue to increase. 

Similar increases in energy consumption can also be expected in test labs, as higher data usage and the rollouts of new, more advanced technology requires increasingly thorough testing. 

What may be surprising, however, is that all that energy doesn’t necessarily need to be used. 

As the functionality of smart technology continues to increase, it provides an expansive stream of actionable intelligence which can help build awareness of where energy consumption is at its highest and, importantly, where it may be being wasted. 

One example of this can be found in the ‘keep it cool’ mentality. It has become common place to turn data centres into giant fridges, ensuring the expensive equipment inside is running at the lowest point or the narrowest bandwidth for temperature – however, for most equipment in these centres the operating temperature range is generally much wider. 

This is where smart power bars can provide an impressive power reduction solution. Not only will they let you know exactly how much energy each piece of equipment is using, but they can also distribute temperature sensors on top of the equipment and build a virtual heat map of the room. In 

doing so, you can reveal the hot and cold spots of your data centre, map out the airflow, reposition equipment to suit and then reduce the amount of cooling needed. As every watt of energy used in the environment requires additional energy to remove the heat, you can reduce power usage through careful planning with regards to the equipment being run and the associated cooling required to support it. 

AUTOMATED EFFICIENCIES 

Using heatmaps to reduce energy wasted through overcompensated cooling isn’t the only way smart tech can help increase efficiency. For those that need to run tests ahead of product or service releases, automation can help save time, energy and, ultimately, costs. This is because, once again, there is a huge amount of power intensive equipment being used in test environments. Doubly so if regression testing is needed, as hard reboots and the large quantities of traffic being pushed come with their own sizeable energy requirements. And while automation won’t reduce the power consumption of tests entirely, it can provide a few smart ways to make them less demanding. 

One way in which it can do this is via smart scheduling. By using test automation software, you can schedule exactly which test tools and infrastructure will be needed in advance. This means they will only be powered on and available for the specific time needed, saving any energy that might otherwise be wasted by having it always on. Combining test automation software with an electrical or all-optical matrix switch for connecting test tools in lab environments can be of further value when running regression testing. Connecting test equipment through a matrix switch and controlling it with automation software allows the one-time physical connection of test tools, with the software providing the means to schedule tests and efficiently switch equipment on and off. In doing so, you can further benefit from the efficiencies of smart scheduling, as well as reduce the risk of cables becoming damaged by the dirt picked up through repeatedly being unplugged and reconnected. 

The combination of automation software and matrix switching enables a 24/7 remote test lab and removes the need to be on-site to perform the tests, providing an indirect cost saving through reduced travel and removing the typical physical work involved in setting up tests and making changes to a test environment. 

Supporting one of our clients in the implementation of the above strategies has saved them around 10 weeks each year in test time, reduced their power costs significantly in their lab areas, and also reduced the need for travel and the associated costs involved. 

REDUCING CONSUMPTION DURING A CRISIS 

While energy prices don’t look likely to come down any time soon, there are ways you can reduce the amount of energy your organisation uses. By developing an increased awareness of exactly where power is being drawn and how much is being wasted, you can cut costs without reducing efficiency. Another client that recently added smart power bars to their large data centre and test environment now anticipates achieving their power reduction target three years ahead of time. 

Incorporating test automation in the lab can also reduce usage further, as well as streamlining processes and offering the additional advantage of remote operation which provides additional savings to an organisation and more flexibility for staff. By implementing even just a few of these changes across areas of your infrastructure and test environments where power reduction can be found, you can start reducing costs. Additionally, once the process is underway, you are also likely to find additional efficiencies outside the initial scope of your project – leading to much higher energy-savings than you may have originally anticipated. 

Not only does this provide financial benefit, it will also act as a huge support to your environmental objectives, providing a win-win solution during the current crisis we’re faced with. Arguably, there has never been a better time to unlock major efficiencies and cost reductions whilst reducing energy consumption, good for saving costs and for the environment.

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Liam Jackson

Senior Director, Red Helix.

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