So far, the data centre sector has come under less public pressure to reduce its energy emissions than the airline industry, despite having a comparable carbon footprint.
“Data centres make up 2% of national energy consumption,” Roger Keenan from colocation data centre City Lifeline told Information Age’s Future of the Data Centre conference.
“That is the same proportion as air travel, but our industry gets nowhere like as much stick.” That is not to say that data centres should be seen as polluters – in fact, by consolidating computing resources they arguably reduce the environmental impact of IT. “The efficiency of servers operated in a virtual environment is much better than lots of little ones run in cupboards under the stairs,” Keenan said.
Nevertheless, public scrutiny is bound to turn towards data centres eventually. Greenpeace’s recent campaign against social networking giant Facebook for its use of coal to power one of its facilities may already be pushing in that direction. “We should act now to stay ahead of the curve and keep the data centre industry out of the media spotlight,” Keenan said.
One organisation promising to help data centre operators get their house in order is The Green Grid, a consortium of experts, practitioners and industry players collaborating to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities.
Speaking at the event, Harkeeret Singh, head of energy and sustainable technology at Thomson Reuters and EMEA chair of the Green Grid’s technical committee, presented the organisation’s Data Centre Maturity Model. The model splits the job of achieving the ‘perfect data centre’ into stages, allowing organisations to benchmark their current performance and plan their improvement strategy (see www.thegreengrid.org for more details).
But while the model explains what needs to be achieved, Singh reported that there is still work to be done figuring out how some of the higher levels of maturity can be achieved. For example, the use of low-carbon energy sources to power data centres is immature.
“It is difficult to use low-carbon generation within a data centre,” Singh said. “No-one has worked out a way to put critical load on low-carbon sources, and we want to see some innovation to help us get there. “We’re interested to see people using non-mechanical cooling,” he added. “And we want to see the challenge of using IT in warmer climates cracked, either through cooling innovation or new equipment that can operate at 40 to 45 degrees.” Singh called on attendees to push their hardware suppliers to drive this kind of innovation.
“It’s only going to happen if users push for it,” he said. Roger Keenan, City Lifeline “We should act now to keep the data centre industry out of the media spotlight.”