Embedded Data Centers

A Hidden Savings Opportunity

When people think about data centers, most probably picture Costco-sized facilities run by leading high-tech brands like Apple, Microsoft, Google, or Facebook.  However, half of all data center energy use, or roughly one percent of all the energy generated in the USA, is used by smaller, more ubiquitous, and less well-known “embedded data centers”.  Generally speaking, embedded data centers are data center spaces with less than 50kW of IT load. They include server rooms, server closets, localized data centers and some mid-tier data centers as well.

Why are Embedded Data Centers Often Overlooked?

If you work in an office, a school, or even a hospital, you may have an embedded data center in your building. While consolidation efforts over the last decade have reduced the number of embedded data centers in corporate environments, many are still in operation. Most of these remaining embedded data centers may be great opportunity for further consolidation into standalone data center space within the organization or transferring that compute to a co-location facility or the cloud.

There are a variety of reasons embedded data centers escape organizational scrutiny that would be typical for other facility resources including:

  • Hidden costs.  Most large data centers are metered separately from other facilities.  As a result, the cost of powering a large data center is easier to determine.  Embedded data centers, on the other hand, are rarely metered separately from other spaces within the building.  Without proper metering it can be challenging to isolate the energy use of the embedded data center and make it a priority.
  • Split incentives. Embedded data center managers typically don’t shoulder the energy costs of their facility.  Electricity bills are often the responsibility of an energy or facility manager, who may not even work in the same building or part of the organization.
  • Risk aversion. Data center managers are focused primarily on uptime and performance. As a result, proposed changes that are not directly tied to uptime may be seen as adding unnecessary risk.
  • Lack of resources.  Embedded data center managers often lack the time, staff, or budget to investigate efficiency measures.   

Options to Decommission Embedded Data Centers

Many workloads allow for a transfer of compute to a co-location, cloud or standalone data center option, these environments are purpose built for data center operations, unlike the building where the embedded data center originated. These can be a great option for data center operators to reduce cost and increase efficiency. Making the switch can lead to significant savings in cooling and infrastructure energy, as well as potentially reduced maintenance expenses tied to supplemental HVAC equipment which is no longer needed to support the embedded data center.

What is a co-location data center?

A co-location data center is a data center where physical space, bandwidth, and equipment are rented out to a variety of customer types. The co-lo provider typically supplies the space, power, cooling, and security for the rented area within the data center and can help connect customer IT equipment to various network service providers. Customers typically own the IT equipment installed in these spaces and control how that equipment is configured and used, but daily operations are overseen by the co-location provider. ENERGY STAR has developed, with leading co-location data centers, best practices (PDF, 427 KB) on how to avoid the most common mistakes that operators make that increase their cost and energy consumption.

What is the cloud?

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management or service provider interaction. Cloud computing services typically exist in one of three service models[1];


Software as a Service (Saas): Customer can run provider’s applications in cloud infrastructure.

Platform as a Service (PaaS): customer can run customer’s own or purchased applications in cloud infrastructure.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): customer can run any software in cloud infrastructure and has additional control over operating system, firewalls, and storage.


In addition, cloud computing can be deployed in the following ways:

Private cloud: Provisioned exclusively for a single organization comprising multiple consumers (business units).

Community cloud: Provisioned exclusively for use by a specific community of consumers from organizations that have shared concerns (e.g., mission security requirements, policy, and compliance considerations).

Public cloud: Provisioned for open use by the general public.

Hybrid cloud. Composed of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability.

What if the Embedded Data Center is your only option?

If security, latency, or other requirements prevent you from being able to leverage consolidation, co-location, or cloud options, there are measures available to help ensure your embedded data center is operating as efficiently as it can. The ENERGY STAR program offers 5 basic ways to save energy, along with 16 more granular solutions that may prove useful depending on your embedded data center’s size and configuration.