Conflicts of interest

Can the data centre of the future be both reliable and environmentally sound? After two days of intense discussion at this year’s Future of the Data Centre conference, panellists in the final session attempted to spike some of the myths that surround data centre operations, in particular the idea that data centres cannot be both energy efficient and reliable, while keeping costs on a tight leash.

For two days delegates had heard tales of rising energy demands, spiralling electricity costs and the growing importance of corporate social responsibility. The final debating panel seemed determined to ensure that the audience would not go away down-hearted.

“We have to get away from the idea that a green data centre is an unreliable data centre,” argues Liam Newcombe, secretary of the British Computer Society’s data centre group.

For Stuart Bowman, director of energy and sustainability at building services group Hurleypalmerflatt, onsite power generation would be a critical step in delivering an efficient, cost-effective, reliable and green data centre. Onsite generation management, he argued, is one environmental measure that would actually improve the resilience of the facility, particularly in areas where the grid electricity supply is weak. “In this way, you’d see onsite generation not just as part of the CSR report, but also a part of how resilience is built in.”

Much of the debate around environmental concerns has been too limited in its scope, says Charlotte Eddington, senior surveyor at commercial property group CB Richard Ellis, focusing either on the data centre as the sole source of the organisational problem or assuming that the solutions will come from enterprises acting alone. “I would urge peer groups to look at how they can address this issue together in an off site capacity. Corporates might want to look at investing in a joint project where you develop for example a bio-mass plant or wind farms, as opposed to risking the resilience of your data centre.”

And there is scope for business leaders to reduce their energy consumption without introducing a single new piece of technology. Today organisations have accumulated vast banks of data, much of it unnecessary – one delegate recounted an extreme case where analysis showed that 80% of data held within one organisation was “redundant”. Clearly there is an opportunity to reduce wastage by weeding out data that no longer has any business value.

This problem has been exacerbated by the easy availability of additional hardware and the fear of deleting data, says Vic Smith, enterprise technologist at Dell. Psychologically, it is far easier for CIOs to provision more hardware than it is to tackle labyrinthine enterprise data systems. As a result, “capacity leads to duplicate and redundant data being stored,” says Smith.

“The fact that we have bigger and bigger disk drives,” says Ed Ansett, managing director, EYP Mission Critical Facilities, “doesn’t mean it is right to fill them.  We have to start thinking seriously about where the power is going and whether it is justified,” he added.

For many of today’s large business, however, regulatory obligations – for example Sarbanes-Oxley – make the hoarding of data a necessary evil. One delegate recounted his experience, where his heavily-regulated customers stipulate tier-four facilities, that keep data in perpetuity, as part of the base-line contract discussions. “There is far too much government interference, which means things aren’t always able to change,” he told the audience.

Such businesses are being caught by a double whammy: environmental legislation seems likely to impose efficiency rules on them that they cannot meet because auditing rules preclude them from becoming data efficient. Reconciling such conflicting demands will remain a struggle for the business community.

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley is the managing director of printer cartridge company By taking a systematic trial and improvement approach, Cowley and marketing director Sean Blanks have created a Sunday...

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