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Data Centers And Climate Change

Sep 28, 2015

Increased electrical power consumption vs. national global warming targets.

It’s mid-year and 2015 is “still on pace to be the hottest year on record according to  

Figure 1. NASA/NOAA global data shows record warmth of the first six months of any year in red. Blue shows record coldest months, gray indicates no data. (Link to Source)

While this is not surprising to some, even many, what is surprising is a recent Data Center Dynamics piece titled Enterprise Data Centers are devouring power (Link to Source). The article begins, “Enterprise data centers, run in-house by large businesses, are throwing away money on uncontrolled cooling and power costs, according to research from IDC”. Data was gathered from over 400 users with at least 100 servers and at least a 1000 sq.ft. (~100 m2) data center floor space. Cloud, Colo and Service Providers were excluded from the Enterprise level survey. Findings were surprising:

  • Two-thirds of those surveyed had a PUE (power utilization effectiveness >2.0

    • Less than half the power is consumed by the IT racks

    • Ten-percent have a PUE of 3.0 or higher or don’t know their PUE

  • Participants are spending 24% of their budget on power

    • $300,000 per year on average

    • Approximately equal to the average spent on IT equipment

  • Lowering the PUE to 1.5 (U.S. Government guideline) would save 25% of power used

    • $75,000 per year in savings

  • While all IT equipment is drawing power, IT equipment utilization is around 20%

While every Enterprise IT manager would love to have an extra $75,000 per year for IT equipment, upgrades, etc., in many cases it may not be possible to achieve a lower PUE without additional investment. That being said, it is difficult to believe that the majority of those surveyed couldn't lower their PUE somewhat by either running a few degrees warmer or making modest modifications to the data center’s HVAC system to achieve the reduction.

But what if IT managers, beleaguered by constant requests for support, hammered with security concerns, analyzing options for improved or lower cost services and equipment, and maintaining what just what exists don’t have the time or resources to undertake such a project. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” mantra likely rings loudly in some understaffed and under-budgeted IT operations.

What about a new approach: IT Manager White Knights fighting the spectre of the Corporate Carbon Footprint Dragon. Imagine a triple win-win-win. First, reduce spending on IT power freeing up money for IT equipment, software, upgrades, etc. Second, provide corporate managers with ongoing positive public relations opportunities to promote the company’s green initiatives and results. Third, provide corporate management with tangible contributions to global warming gas reduction targets thereby helping meet national climate change goals and avoid future regulatory scrutiny.

Figure 2. Corporate IT Managers can lead the charge against the Corporate Carbon Footprint Dragon thereby saving money and providing a significant contribution to green corporate initiatives and national climate change goals. Link to source

The Economist published a 2014 piece noting, “On climate change, if little else, Europe still aspires to global leadership.”  Link to Source So it is no wonder that in that same year Data Center Dynamics published a piece titled Meeting climate change targets in the UK. Link to Source Author Dr. Beth Whitehead, PhD and expert in data center life cycles and energy among other topics, notes that in the past four years the UK has begun the process of establishing a climate change agreement (CCA) for data centers in the UK. She continues, “The agreement, which enables continued sector growth, provides a reduction in CCL (climate change levy) taxes and exemption from the CRC (climate reduction commitment) in return for efficient energy consumption. Achievement of this milestone is recognition that the government understands the importance of the data center sector to the UK economy.”

Clearly the topic of energy will only become more important not only in the UK and Europe but eventually globally. The UK financial incentives are substantial. Dr. Whitehead’s piece should be read not only by UK data center professionals but IT professionals worldwide.

Given the negative publicity and governmental attention that data centers receive regarding their energy consumption as well as the spectre of governmental controls not only in the UK and EU, it would be fair to say that such initiatives and potential controls are in the future of data centers worldwide. The task of defining the current status of each data center as well as mapping energy consumption by major data center sector is one task that data center professionals have likely undertaken. Dr. Whitehead enumerates the likely target areas for potential savings. Each data center is different, but as the industry continues to consolidate, this differentiation will be reduced and options fewer and easier to identify and measure.

While in the U.S. data centers may not be under such scrutiny today there is an advantage to being among those early adopters of green initiatives. Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google make national headlines every time a data center powered by photovoltaics, wind or other renewable sources is announced or commissioned. Colo and cloud service providers may be able to project a competitive advantage in attracting new customers and even retaining existing customers with green initiatives. The food industry understands such market awareness.

Figure 3. Food Channel green footprint shows one such example of logos that can be incorporated into corporate marketing and advertising materials.  Link to Source

With calorie counts being required on menus of major restaurants, some customers are looking at the next target, the restaurant’s carbon footprint. One can see the positive effects that initiatives such as Chipotle’s GMO-free ingredients claims have had on business and PR. Subway has taken advantage of advertising its reduction in water, raw material, energy and transportation usage. Like forward looking industries, a green CO2 footprint prominently displayed on data center promotional material would bring attention to companies taking such initiatives. Will your data center be one such company?

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