Power, Pollution and the Internet: Debunking the ‘Dirty’ Myths about Data Centers

by | Dec 11, 2012

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This article is the first in a series by John Tuccillo, vice president of Global Industry and Government Alliances at Schneider Electric, on the topic of data center energy efficiency, brought to the forefront of industry discussion by a recent New York Times article on this subject matter.

The recent New York Times articles by James Glanz titled Power, Pollution and the Internet brought increased awareness to the important issue of data center energy efficiency. Data centers are effectively the modern day factory at the hub of the digital economy. The opportunities which a finely tuned data center creates for productivity improvements, as well as cost savings and environmental sustainability advancements, are well proven across all industries. These advancements continue to leapfrog themselves through global collaboration between industry and government within organizations such as The Green Grid.

Many of the energy efficient data center systems widely used today were not available at scale at the time of the reference cases of 2006 which were featured in Mr. Glanz’s article. Best practices for tuning optimum resource efficiency were not yet common knowledge for data center managers. ENERGY STAR had just begun to consider the complexities of the data center, and the industry lacked a commonly accepted method for measuring power, carbon and water usage effectiveness.

Though the article paints a picture of latent servers burning through electricity uselessly and utilization rates below 5 percent, this does not ask the right question of data centers today. The real question should be, “How are data centers tuning their entire system to optimize the greatest possible amount of productivity per Kwh, within the smallest possible footprint?”

Data centers now have access to sophisticated monitoring and management resources that enable these modern day factories of the digital economy to finely tune their IT, facilities and operations to achieve the optimal productivity to their particular business values. DCIM tools which optimize load, operate cooling systems more efficiently, and manage capacity, coupled with BMS systems empower data centers like never before within the total building envelope.

Further, to help run “what-if” scenarios, The Green Grid recently released the Data Center Maturity Model and related online tool which enables data centers to target their desired maturity across a series of five levels which consider dozens of conditions holistically within both the IT and facility environments. While many data centers are using this tool for self-improvement, the ammonized data empowers data center owner/operators to compare themselves to peers globally for benchmarking their relative maturity within a common, easy-to-use structure and drive potential improvement scenarios with the c-suite in a language which is easily understood outside of technical jargon.

Mr. Glanz also comments on the rapid growth of the data center industry due to the surge in digital information produced. The economic, societal and yes – even environmental – benefits of digitalization cannot be overstated. Digitalization cannot be stopped, nor should it be. As quickly as data centers have grown and multiplied throughout the United States to meet the increasing need for IT services across all industries, so as the IT community continued to make massive strides with dramatic productivity improvements per unit of energy consumed, increased utilization, and it continues to reduce environmental impact.

Much of the feedback resulting from Glanz’s article drew the same conclusion, best summed up by the title of The Huffington Post piece “Power, Pollution and the Internet: Right Discussion, Wrong Conclusion.” While the topic of data center energy efficiency should be front and center, we must be sure to acknowledge how far we’ve come from the legacy data centers of years past.

In the next article of this series, we’ll cite recent energy efficiency gains in the industry and discuss specific ways data centers have evolved over the past decade to embrace energy efficient technologies and minimize environmental impact.

John Tuccillo is vice president of Global Industry and Government Alliances at Schneider Electric.

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