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Codes and Coercion

07 October 2007

Amidst the debate on the datacentre carbon footprint Thom Brouillard and Michael Adams, highlight the issues that facility owners and operators should think about when planning for how their current and future facilities should cater for the changes that are happening

LEGISLATIVE AND VOLUNTARY PRESSURES to reduce carbon emissions have emerged from various levels of Government - local (particularly if you operate in London), national and European. In July 2007, the UK Government's commitments to reduce carbon emissions under the Kyoto Agreement came closer to fruition when Joan Ruddock, Minister for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste, announced that avoiding
or reducing our emissions as much as possible has to be the first priority in fighting climate change. The Government wants to encourage data centre operators and owners to choose suppliers with valid carbon offset plans by establishing a new carbon offset quality mark.

Carbon offsetting is the practice of compensating for one's own carbon emissions by paying for plans which reduce carbon emissions to the equivalent of what you are going to emit.

Joan Ruddock said: "People need to be sure that when they buy an offsetting product the emissions reductions are actually taking place, which is why we are developing this Code, which will be accompanied by a quality mark for accredited products. An overwhelming majority of respondents to the consultation are in favour of a voluntary code for offsetting products to deal with the risk that without recognised standards consumer confidence could be damaged and the potential impact of offsetting reduced. In light of that clear consensus, I am pleased to confirm that we will establish a Code of Best Practice, which we aim to have in place by the end of the year. It will provide clarity and assurance for consumers and encourage the industry to develop further."

The Code will be voluntary, meaning that offsetting providers or companies that sell offsets alongside their goods and services will be able to choose whether they want to seek accreditation for some or all of their products. The Government believes that direct carbon emission reduction is preferred, but that offsets are viable when direct reduction is impractical.

London action
Datacentres in London will face additional scrutiny as a result of the Mayor's unveiling of the London Climate Change Action Plan in February 2007, setting out the first comprehensive plan to cut London's carbon emissions. The Mayor launched four programmes which will form the basis of the Plan of which two - the Green Organisations Programme and the Green Energy Programme - are most pertinent to data centre owners and operators.

In the case of the former, London's employers, both commercial and public sector, are responsible for one third of the capital's emissions. If all of the actions in this Plan were implemented they would save employers up to 20 per cent on their energy bills. The Green Energy Programme relates to decentralised energy. The Action Plan sets a target to move a quarter of London's energy supply off the National Grid and on to more efficient, local energy systems by 2025.

The Government's Energy White Paper, published in May 2007, sets out a mandatory 'cap and trade' regime, which requires companies that use more than 3,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year to purchase energy allowances. This will affect a great number of data centres.

And according to a survey by Forrester Research, 85 per cent of companies said environmental concerns were important in planning IT operations, but only 25 per cent had formalised green criteria into their IT procurement processes, with the CTO of one manufacturing firm saying: "We would do green because it makes business sense, not because it is green. It would have to show cost savings."

Typically, only 30 to 50 per cent of electrical energy use in a data centre powers the IT equipment. The rest is used for cooling, air movement, electricity transformation/UPS and lighting. Denser servers mean a far greater demand for cooling, sometimes 20 times as much for the equivalent space as in the days of the 'legacy' datacentre. If IT energy efficiency performance does not improve, the cost of electricity will soon exceed the cost of hardware.

As long as data centres continue to be conceived and constructed on the basis of factors such as location and electrical supply, they will continue to reach their physical capacity limits far too quickly. And as datacentres designed in another era continue to be expected to cope with modern server configurations the limitations of their physical capacities will be ruthlessly exposed. These limitations seriously compromise the ability of info-centric businesses to grow, indeed, the IT needs of business grow for reasons of efficiency, compliance, CRM regardless of whether the business itself is growing to the same extent.

At Datacentience, we stress the importance of an overall corporate strategy in reducing the carbon footprint. The strategy needs to come from the top, to support those people running the facility and to look at the datacentre holistically in terms of its role within the organisation.

A quick look back over the last decade demonstrates that many incorrect assumptions have been made concerning corporate use of technology and therefore many data centres are now badly suited to current IT requirements. This represents a lack of communication between the disparate groups who have a stake in the data centre, from facilities and IT to corporate and financial management.

A new order of thinking is clearly required which integrates business and information needs with a clear understanding of corporate objectives, embracing the uncertainties caused by technological advances, real estate constraints, regulatory compliance, and both grid and telecom issues. The datacentre is similar to any other area of an organisation that produces a carbon footprint and the process of dealing with issues of emissions, compliance, governance and CSR starts at the top with a corporate strategic view. The mission criticality of datacentre facilities means that the people responsible for its operation and performance need support from the highest echelons of their organisation with a long-term and strategic dedication to energy efficiency.

Only by changing the way that the datacentre has historically been regarded by its stakeholder groups and by adopting a scientific approach towards its governance, design and best operating practices is it possible to ensure that facilities are created, renewed and expanded to meet a new IT-enabled business agenda and address environmental standards and sustainability.

At Datacentience we have combined a sound understanding of business processes and ICT with the engineering experience to provide data centre solutions for the UK and overseas. We have developed an approach to solving datacentre issues based on what we have termed the science of datacentres. Our methodology is therefore both holistic and modular. The intellectual processes of information gathering, briefing and generating concepts have been deliberately separated from the engineering stages.

Integrated planning ensures that the requirements across the whole organisation are established, including new legislation and codes of practice in relation to carbon emissions. These are documented and articulated in what we call a Statement Of Needs (StONe). This is the cornerstone - a mutually agreed document against which design and engineering decisions are measured. For each project, every single component must support or conform to the StONe in order to form part of the finished solution.

As the project becomes more concrete, decisions can be made about the most appropriate infrastructure solutions and specialist contractor services. Since Datacentience is vendor-neutral, the most appropriate, best-of-breed solution may be implemented whilst at the same time the customer maintains ultimate control over budgets, contractors and timings.

However, innovation does not end when the datacentre is specified, built and commissioned. As business needs evolve and market factors change, our science of datacentres ensures that the facility continues to provide a sustainable solution through whole lifecycle support. There is an opportunity for this industry to do much more to increase efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of data centres. To do so requires a scientific approach, objectivity and vendor neutrality. It also depends on having proper measurement tools in place with which to analyse energy use to facilitate correct decisions for remedial action.

The bottom line is that emissions equate to wasted energy, which is wasted money. So efficiency, provided it can be implemented costeffectively, will result in a win-win situation for the data centre community -especially so if the Government intends to use the carbon footprint as a potential tax opportunity.

CTO's are now obliged to look not just at IT but everything that surrounds it. When equipment was designed for era of plentiful, cheap energy and when facilities people were left to work in isolation, this is not always evident.

....Thom Brouillard is Chief Technical Officer and Michael Adams is CEO of Datacentience which has recently launched its Lower Carbon Healthcheck service.
Visit Datacentience for further information and registration for this service.

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