Greening the data center

10 Jan 2008

The telecom sector as a service business has traditionally regarded itself as environmentally clean.

In fact, telecoms and data networking gear are creating a fast-expanding carbon footprint. Already, the ICT industry accounts for 3%-4% of global CO2 emissions, placing it on a par with aviation, according to a report by the UK-based Environmental IT Leadership Team (EILT).

Global carbon dioxide emissions from data centers are growing at an astonishing rate.

Data center energy consumption as a percentage of total US electricity use has doubled since 2000, and IDCs and servers will double their energy consumption again by 2012, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

In the UK, energy consumption from non-domestic ICT equipment increased by more than 70% from 2000-2006 and is expected to grow by a further 40% by 2020, a recent report by EILT concluded. The report found that for every unit of electricity consumed, around another half unit is required to dissipate the heat generated.

"The average server, for example, has roughly the same annual carbon footprint as an SUV doing 15 miles-per-gallon!" said Trewin Restorick, chair of the EILT. He said the growing carbon footprint would means that ICTs and the way businesses utilize them "will increasingly come under the spotlight as governments seek to achieve carbon-cutting commitments."

In Asia Pacific, galloping rates of socio-economic growth as well as increasing environmental awareness is emerging as another big challenge that data center managers have to cope with. The greenhouse alert adds to the pressures they have been under for years over the escalating energy consumption of IDCs. Many managers feel caught in a pincer between IT best practice and environmentally-sustainable computing.

A data center is designed to be environmentally inefficient, with redundant servers set up for all data. Now, IT managers complain, they are now expected to be green as well.

However, there is a natural convergence between green practices and good business. Efficiency in business invariably means working assets to their best effect for the lowest cost.

Additionally, the escalating cost of power means the potential savings from efficient IDC management are huge. Research firm IDC estimates that for every dollar spent on computer hardware, another 50 cents is spent on energy. It predicts that will increase to more than 71 cents by 2011.

No economic incentives

The first part of the solution is organizational. It needs to start at the top with support from the CEO and the senior management team.

Naturally, any program to increase IT energy efficiency and reduce carbon footprint needs to be executed as part of a corporate social responsibility and environmental efforts.

But most ICT departments are only marginally involved in their organization's social responsibility strategies, the EILT study found. Nearly half have never been asked to focus on energy efficiency and virtually none offers economic incentives to support green practices.

It is essential to mesh the IT group's goals in with the organization's facilities management team and to establish baseline measurements energy use and costs.

The second part is the design and running of data centers themselves. Many data centers today were built at the time of the tech boom. They tend to lack floor space, and have difficulty in accommodating today's high-density servers. Energy management will become more and more an issue for IDC managers when procuring new hardware and in daily operations.

In response to these issues, IT and telecom vendors are developing more efficient blade servers and cooling technologies and are implementing IDC consolidation and virtualization. HP recently unveiled "smart cooling" technology that it believes will yield a 40% reduction in energy consumption. Cisco, Dell, Ericsson and other major suppliers have all introduced energy-saving initiatives.

One of the largest of these is IBM's $1 billion "ËœBig Green' data efficiency project.

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