Does green matter?

Data centres need to deeply consider their energy efficiency

Tags: Facebook IncorporationGoogle IncorporatedUnited Arab Emirates
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Does green matter? (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  August 28, 2012

Facebook has just announced plans to source one quarter of the energy it uses in its data centres from renewable energy sources by 2015, along with a commitment to advocate for use of ‘greener’ energy sources.

With data centres now accounting for around 1.3% of global power consumption, by 2011 figures, there is growing pressure on the IT sector to go ‘green’, with groups like Greenpeace monitoring major data centre players.

When it comes to the ICT sector, ‘green’ generally means energy efficiency, and use of renewable energy. The industry certainly has to consider its energy use. As data centre build out continues to grow at a rapid pace, so power consumption also increases. In 2011, the global power consumption by data centres was around 31GW. And when data centres are powered by ‘unclean’ energy sources, such as coal burning power stations, that means greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010, Google, one of the better companies in terms of commitment to clean energy sources according to Greenpeace, still produced 1.5 million tons of CO2.

But does green matter for IT decision makers in the Middle East? In terms of using renewable energy, there’s not really any choice in the region – if you are going to host a data centre in the Gulf, you will have to power it with whatever energy source the local power company is using, and there is precious little power generated by renewable means. Generating your own power isn’t really an option, and most power solutions that could be self-installed such as solar, wind or hydrocarbon fuel cells can’t provide sufficient or consistent power to keep a data centre up and running. Other than that, the only other option would be to locate the data centre overseas, in a country with access to renewable energy, but latency issues would surely be more of a deciding factor than green concerns.

That leaves just energy efficiency, and it is in this area that regional CIOs and IT managers are most likely to be taking steps. For some companies commitment to green might be a matter of company policy or charter, or in some cases a necessary requirement as a supplier or partner to customers with green policies, but for the main part, investments in power and cooling efficiency are more likely to be part of wider attention to costs.

IT departments are facing both tighter budgets, and also demand for greater transparency and accountability of spending. In last month’s ACN we ran a story on how Abu Dhabi’s Masdar saved 15m dhs over a year and a half through IT rationalization, via a widespread review of the company requirements and assets. That highly detailed knowledge and understanding of costs, of which power consumption and efficiency is a part, is becoming an increasing focus for CIOs. Driven by restricted economic circumstances, and enabled in part by IT solutions that can monitor power consumption, licence usage, server utilisation, and so on, the CIO has more ability to understand costs than ever before, and can expect to increasingly be called upon to be accountable for those costs. Rationalisation and efficiency are going to take up an increasing part of the IT decision maker’s time. There might be ‘green’ benefits along the way, but at the end, it comes down to cost.

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