Data Centres – High Energy Efficiency = High Utilisation

Published on Monday, 01 October 2012 14:38
Written by Zahl Limbuwala CEng FBCS CITP

Data centres have certainly been topic 'de jour' for more than a year now and there is no sign of them moving out of the public eye in the near future either

Just recently the topic of data centres and energy efficiency made for a front-page article in the New York Times! So much for being the boring 'engine room' of Information Technology!

So why is it that data centres and their energy efficiency is still a hot topic? Well, the first thing to note is that whether the public knows it or not, we are reliant on them today in almost every facet of our digital lives. Many public services went on-line many years ago now and it's fast becoming the best way to communicate with government on an every-day basis.

The problem is that data centres are energy hungry, poorly utilized polluters that have a large carbon footprint. But is that really true? According to the New York Times that is the 'dirty secret' within the data centre industry. Within the BCS and many other industry bodies I think you will find many disagree for the most part with those statements, but know their work is not just yet.

There's a growing trend to bring in 'energy managers', custodians of the ever more precious resource that continues to become a larger and larger part of 'cost' of enabling our digital world.

So what really can an energy manager accomplish, is it a hiding to nothing or can they really make a difference? To answer that - a peek into the private sector will tell us that the primary function of an energy manager is to bring together people, departments and functions around the common goal of not only reducing energy, but ensuring waste is kept to a minimum at every stage.

It's not just about energy though, policy actions such as the European Commissions Code of Conduct for Data Centres have made energy saving best practice information available freely and widely to help the data centre managers maximize their energy efficiency.

A lot has changed in the world of Information Technology over the past three years. The big technology vendors, Intel, IBM, HP, Dell and alike now recognize the buyers desire to minimize the operating cost of their equipment while in use and have massively improved the efficiency of their equipment. Programmes from the US Environmental Protection Agency such as the EnergyStar programme have also had a massive impact on the efficiency of equipment, almost as drastic as the impact the 'A' to 'E' energy efficiency labels had on our white goods.

The real problem left to deal with today is one of utilization. Having equipment powered up in a data centre ready to service user or consumer demand is an expensive and wasteful business. Particularly in sectors that feel the need to have their own data centres and their own equipment, utilization is often alarmingly low, often between 5-10%. That means 90% waste!

The technology to share resource, share data centres is tried and tested and there is little excuse left for private fiefdoms. Virtualization software and shared service data centres have to be the way forward in public and private sector. That's exactly what 'the cloud' is...a shared computing resource.

Energy managers are a plaster over the wound to help stop the bleeding, but plasters don't cause the body to heal itself and neither can an energy manager solve the underlying issues. Yes, they can help make things better today, but hopefully we can fix the real issue that continues to permeate within many businesses and not just public sector.

Cloud services, shared platforms, utility computing, it's had many names and various false-starts over the years, but it's here to stay and the technology around security, efficiency, utilization management, etc are also here to help ensure we use 90% of the capacity instead of 10%!

For energy, data centre and IT managers, see the BCS Data Centre Specialist Group's presentation on the 'FVER' metric, a new way to measure waste within the data centre.

Also see the BCS created CEEDA Award program for data centres built around the European Commission Code of Conduct for Data Centres that audits data centres against over 70 energy efficient best practices. www.ceeda-award.org

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