Small Business IT: Cut Your Power and Cooling Costs

Wednesday Feb 2nd 2011 by Katie Mroczka
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If you're looking for ways to save money, look to your electrical outlets. We show you how running your servers at 208 volts can increase energy efficiency and ROI.

With prices on the rise and budgets diminishing, small businesses are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and increase their return on investment (ROI).  While many businesses struggle to find reasonable ways to cut costs, here’s one that makes cutting your small business IT (information technology) expenses easier than you may think. 

Even if your company has not embraced the green IT wave, a simple solution that allows your business to cut power and cooling costs is as close as your server room’s electrical outlets.

Plug the Small Business IT Power Drain

Since the law requires habitable spaces to have wiring with 120-Volts (V), 120V outlets are almost always the primary power source in small office buildings. To accommodate customers, technology vendors typically ship entry-level and mid-range servers with a 120V power cord. 

Since 120V is standard, one would assume that servers operate most efficiently at this voltage level.  However, most servers in the U.S. are designed to accept both 120V and 208V inputs. They're equipped with auto-sensing input circuitry that automatically adjusts to the applied input voltage. 

Despite the convenience of the existing 120V power source, there are fundamental limitations to the equipment it can support.  The majority of wall receptacles are rated at 15 Amps. However, Underwriters Laboratory (UL) specifies that a single piece of electrical equipment is not permitted to draw more than 80 percent of a receptacle’s rating.

That means that the power supply for a 15 Amp circuit is limited to 12 Amps.  This limitation restricts both the power supply system and the efficiency of the computing environment.

How 208-Volts Benefits Small Business IT

Heavy-duty household appliances run on 208V-220V for a specific reason. Operating at a higher voltage actually means drawing less current from the same power supply. This allows the devices, wires, fuses and switches to run cooler, which saves energy and reduces strain on the hardware.

Running servers at 208V instead of 120V not only draws less current, but it also increases input and output power, converts power more efficiently, runs the thermal power supply and improves the reliability of the general power supply.

The most common ratings for 208V wall receptacles are 20 Amps and 30 Amps, which means that the receptacles can each support up to approximately 3,600 and 5,400 watts of power, respectively, from any given device.

With 120V installations, it is common for multiple receptacles to share a single breaker. That means if the breaker trips, it affects the whole system.  The benefit of 208V installations is that their receptacles each tend to have their own circuit breaker.  This way, if one breaker malfunctions, functioning backup receptacles are still available.

Electrify Your Bottom Line

OK, we admit that this sounds a lot like an episode of Ask This Old House.  But think of it this way: through the miracles of physics, running equipment at 208V saves energy -- and saving energy reduces costs.  Further, in addition to a small initial investment required to convert receptacles to 208V, the long-term ROI is substantial given how much you'll save on your overall electric bill. This is a key factor to highlight when proposing this change to management. 

How Do I Make the Switch?

If you’re interested in running your servers at 208V, the next step is to call in an electrician. He or she can provide an estimate of the cost to rewire the area where you keep your servers.

Making the switch to 208V eliminates the need to purchase a transformer to step down the load of high-capacity equipment to 120V, which saves both money and space in the server rack. Once you have rewired, you can easily upgrade existing servers with 120V to 208V by purchasing an inexpensive power cord -- a simple task that reaps huge benefits. 

While it's easy to rely on what’s familiar, it's not always in the best interest of your bottom line. Upgrading from 120V to 208V may be new territory, but it's a surefire way to increase your ROI and energy efficiency. Are you ready to make the switch?

Katie Mroczka is a power specialist at CDW.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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