Q&A – The Green Grid

Founded in 2007, The Green Grid Association is a non-profit, open industry organisation headquartered in Oregon, US, whose members collaborate to improve the resource efficiency of IT and data centres worldwide. The consortium includes over 175 members, including Dell, EMC, HP, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft.

In its quest to become a global authority on resource efficient data centres, the organisation says it unites global industry efforts to create a common set of data centre metrics, in addition to developing technical resources and educational tools for its members. Membership options range from $400 for individual membership to $25,000 to become a full contributor, which provides members with the highest level of input into The Green Grid’s work.

The Green Grid’s EMEA Technical Work Group develops regionally relevant content to improve resource efficiency in data centres across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. This includes identifying and solving EMEA and country-specific trends and initiatives.

Information Age: What are the main aims of The Green Grid?

André Rouyer: The major goal of The Green Grid is to improve resource efficiency of data centres by working on metrics. The best way to do it is to work with standardisation groups and the European Commission to make sure we understand and know where we are with this. It is a huge investment in terms of time and money and is a team effort. While we don’t need to go faster than what’s needed, the organisation is the result of four years of work and has a high value that nobody would argue against.

Another condition is that we all go in the same direction. I’m amazed every time I see a new metric being discussed. It’s good, but we need to make sure we go through the right process to make sure the right metrics are being adopted. Metrics can always be improved, but they need to be simple, easy to reproduce, measure and check. When we started, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) had an average of 2.5, which is now around 1.6 or 1.5. It’s a big difference which has brought a huge energy saving, but there is a need to go for different and more detailed metrics.

Is PUE still the most commonly adopted metric for measuring energy efficiency?

While PUE has been adopted, other metrics could soon become major, probably CUE (Carbon Usage Effectiveness) and WUE (Water Usage Effectiveness). Most European data centre projects are taking into account these metrics already. However, we don’t want to be too fast, so before using these metrics we have to make sure they are standardised.

Unfortunately, these standards are going slower than other projects, which is the nature of the beast as standards have to be voted in by countries, so it’s a long process. However, when they are completed they’re something that’s used on a worldwide basis. That way, nobody can disagree because it’s been voted through and approved.

Some metrics are blossoming all over the world and some will be standardised soon. Some will be integrated as we go, but before we know how to run, we must know how to walk.

The area for improvement over PUE is so big that if everybody was looking into it, then it would be a major step for the world. Some countries like the UK would be ready to change to other metrics, but when it comes to others, eastern or southern European ones perhaps, it would be better to go step-by-step. You can’t take the same approach with them all.

Can you give an outline of what the EU’s 20/20/20 climate targets are and what the mean for data centres?

They are based on the Kyoto protocol, which is a 20% improvement in energy efficiency, produce 20% less carbon and gas emissions, and raise energy consumption from renewable sources to 20%. You have to deal with countries local economies to achieve this. For some countries it would be easy to cut carbon emissions, like Poland, probably, because its energy is based on coal. France is different because it’s based on nuclear. The goal is to not to align all the countries on the same level, but rather to look at the global picture and make sure everybody goes in the same direction. That’s always the same with Europe. We ask how we can improve, and deal with the Kyoto protocol, making sure we don’t impact economies at the end of the day. That’s why in Europe it’s challenging because we have different policies locally, and we have to deal with them.

It was said that the IT industry, in many ways, addresses its own environmental footprint. So why does the European Commission need to work with The Green Grid?

It’s more about guidance. Today, those in the IT industry are pro-active about reducing energy consumption, but there is still no official guidance for them. The commission is bringing tools to people so they don’t have an excuse any more. There are now ways and methodologies to measure energy consumption, and it’s up for people to take them into account. We won’t go for a carbon tax. That’s not the goal, because it’s complicated to set up. So far, there is no threat for a possible regulation from the European Union. They would rather work with people and make sure they’re going in the same direction rather than putting pressure on people.

Are there any countries in Europe where there is a greater need for reducing energy consumption?

The countries where we see major improvements today are northern European ones. This is because of renewable energy and cold weather. The European Commission wants to unite all of the countries on the same level and take into consideration the local conditions. Typically, Poland is 85% coal. If the European Commission said that tomorrow energy consumption has to be 50%, it would kill the economy. In Poland, if energy consumption has to be reduced by 20%, as that’s a target they can apply to all of the European countries. It’s probably harder with a growing economy than it is a decreasing economy.

How much progress is the EC making in establishing a common framework when it comes to cloud data centres and saving energy?

It’s being discussed, but I don’t see one happening or being formalised right now. Cloud brings out other issues; for example, in different countries you have to deal with different legal frameworks. It is an issue because, if tomorrow there is a carbon tax applied in Europe, which legal framework do you apply? You would have to deal with local policies, as there is no global one applied in Europe. Behind cloud there is a big discussion, but typically, for us, it means bigger and more centralised data centres, with an easier means to look at energy efficiency. Then there is the consolidation of data centres and energy consumption. I think the strategy of the European Commission is to make people realise that an improvement can be made.

See also: Energy efficiency in data centres

Ed Reeves

Ed Reeves co-founded Moneypenny with his sister Rachel Clacher in 2000. The company handles more than 9 million calls a year for 7,000 UK businesses and employs almost 400 members of staff. Reeves remains...

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