Results – Fear of commitment

Information Age’s survey into data centre metrics, which polled 180 IT and data centre managers, has revealed that many businesses are woefully under-prepared for impending carbon legislation.

While 84% of respondents have a data centre in the UK, less than 40% are monitoring the energy use of their facilities. There seems to be both a lack of knowledge regarding the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) and scepticism regarding its applicability: only 38% of respondents said it was a concern to their organisation, while 33% said they did not know enough about it to judge despite 2009 being the benchmark year for the obligatory cap-and-trade scheme.

Those respondents who were concerned about the CRC considered it a powerful motivator with over half claiming that fulfilling their energy reduction commitment was their biggest concern regarding the regulation. A further 41% were worried that it would inflate the cost of power, while 33% thought it would impact their ability to meet their organisation’s future technology requirements.

Most organisations who are measuring their data centre’s efficiency use The Green Grid’s PUE (power usage efficiency) metric, while half as many use CUPS (compute units per second) as a relative measure of server output based on average performance.

Surprisingly, 73% of respondents have no idea what their data centre’s PUE is, which suggests that in some instances even where PUE is measured it is ignored, or perhaps dealt with at a lower level in the organisation.

Among those who could report their PUE, the average was around 1.9. Encouragingly, of those measuring PUE 20% intend to get it below 1.7 within the next 3-5 years, while 10% are aiming for below 1.5. Over half of those respondents metering their data centres did so at the UPS level while 30% measured power utilisation at the power distribution unit (PDU).

A further 20% measured it at the HVAC switchgear (cooling equipment) level, which Jim Smith, CTO of Digital Realty Trust, describes as a “general indication that people are paying attention and metering as far up as they possibly can.”

Rack level metering, performed by 44% of those monitoring power usage, “is probably the easiest” but Smith suspects that of that group, less than 10% are sophisticated enough to do more advanced rack-level measurement, such as breaking down power usage to the server or application level.

Asked what they consider to be the most important element of an efficient data centre, 36% of respondents picked ‘proper planning’ while 18% cited ‘renewable energy’, which the Greater London Authority now insists must play a part in power provision for London-based data centres.

Smith argues, however, that the issue is poorly understood. “You need scale to make renewables work,” he explains. “If you’re a big power chain then you’re at the right scale to take advantage of renewables, but the economics of onsite generation with things like fuel cells are a catastrophe. It just doesn’t work.”

Interestingly, many respondents favoured free air cooling as an alternative to power-draining air conditioning: 25% said they were already using it while only 16% said they would not consider it. More generally however, many open replies contained a degree of cynicism towards Green IT measures: one decried them as “political hype not science”, while another said, with nary a trace of sarcasm, “our corporate responsibility means we must care.”

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