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Power Down

18 September 2008

The EU’s new proposed Code of Conduct is set to measure data centre efficiency, but how can businesses reduce data centre energy consumption, environmental impact and power costs? Dr Kevin Ayling explains how it will work

AS THE GREAT GREEN DEBATE GOES FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH more businesses and governments are aligning themselves with the international agenda to reduce the carbon emissions that are causing global warming.

While the IT industry is clearly ‘on side’ in this debate as well, it is estimated that internet computing systems worldwide account for around 2 per cent of global carbon emissions – about the same as the aviation industry. If the IT industry wants to avoid being labelled as an environmental ‘bad boy’ action needs to be taken.

Data centres are extraordinary environments, consuming up to 50 times as much power as equivalent regular office space. In Western Europe they are responsible for 56 TWh of electricity consumption per year – only slightly less than the whole of Italy! Even more startling is that this figure is expected to increase to 104 TWh by 2020.

Concensus
Across the IT industry there is a strong consensus that the issue of power consumption in data centres needs to be tackled. Where the debate continues, however, is how this can be best achieved and the latest contribution to the debate has come from the EU which has proposed a voluntary Code of Conduct for data
centre operators of all size organsations.

The idea was initially proposed by the Renewable Energies Unit of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre with the stated aim ‘to inform relevant organisations about energy consumption by IT and to stimulate its reduction by spreading awareness of energy-efficient best practices.’

The move has been widely welcomed by industry as an opportunity to feedback our practical experience on the technical capabilities for reducing data centre energy use in order to make the proposed Code practical and implementable. Participants in the drafting of the Code have included hardware manufacturers, data centre designers and data centre operators.

When it comes to environmental impact, data centres are of course already highly regulated facilities – and attract scrutiny for the buildings that house them, the IT equipment inside and the data that sits on their servers from a ‘patch work quilt’ of organisations and agencies.

The physical premises are subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment as part of the planning application and the BRE Environmental Assessment Method gives an environmental rating for the facility. Within the Building Regulations (Part L) themselves there is detailed regulation on toxic substances, resistance to the passage of sound, ventilation, drainage and waste disposal, combustion appliances and fuel storage systems, and the conservation of fuel and power. Furthermore at a European level the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive calls for an assessment of the energy usage and efficiency of a building and an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will be issued on public record.

The certificate is important because nearly 50 per cent of the UK's energy consumption and carbon emissions arise from the way our buildings are lit, heated and used. Even comparatively minor changes in energy performance and the way we use each building will have a significant effect in reducing energy
consumption.

The Health and Safety at Work Act also applies to data centres as a place of work and a subset of these provisions are the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health which controls exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health which, in the data centre, includes batteries for the lead, zinc and sulphuric acid they contain.

To help measure server energy efficiency, Dell, AMD, Intel, and several other manufacturers have joined with the non-profit Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC) to develop a benchmark. This group is using input from IT managers and a variety of industry and government organisations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program, to develop useful power-performance benchmarks.

When it comes to life cycle management of the IT equipment the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations apply to the disposal and recycling of electrical and electronic equipment.

The type of the data stored on the servers are also subject to regulation and, to some extent, can also impact on the data centre’s environmental efficiency. In the financial services sector for example the Sarbanes Oxley legislation, the Basel II protocol, and MiFID and FSA requirements all effectively add to the data centre’s storage requirements and these in turn impact on their ability to meet power and carbon emission reduction targets.

In addition to the building, IT and data regulation that effects the environmental impact of data centres there are a number of groups putting forward best practice and collaborating on improving standards. These include the notably successful Green Grid, Ashrae (the American Society Heating Refrigeration and Air
conditioning) and the Climate Savers Computing Initiative among many others.

Therefore the new proposed EU Code of Conduct is set to fit in an already quite complicated set of requirements – some voluntary others mandatory. The Code sits in the former of these categories and there is currently no intention to introduce regulatory enforcement. However, we shouldn’t forget that the Code has been developed in response to increasing alarm over the energy consumption of data centres and seasoned ‘EU watchers’ will note that if ‘voluntary’ doesn’t work then, given the scale of problem,
‘mandatory’ often follows.

The EU Code of Conduct is open to all data centres (existing and planned), their users and their suppliers in either a category of Participant or Endorser, on a voluntary basis. Participants are data centre owners and operators; Endorsers are data centre consultancies, utilities, government, standards bodies and equipment
vendors.

Commitment
Participants will have to demonstrate strong commitment to the Code. They define how many of their data centre operations will be included either as individual facilities or as an aggregate across the enterprise; they then measure and collect data from their site(s), for a minimum of two consecutive months and undertake an energy audit. Each participant agrees to undertake actions to improve their data centre energy efficiency. Many of these actions are defined in the Code’s associated Best Practice Guide , they can range from simple energy management and low cost solutions to more advanced and capital intensive upgrade
programmes.

Once an action plan for undertaking improvements is accepted by the EU Commission, participant status is granted. The participant will have to monitor energy consumption on a monthly basis and report the information regularly (twice yearly). This is to provide evidence of continuous improvement, and provide a historical trace of seasonal variations. The minimum information reported will be that required for the DCiE metric (Data Centre infrastructure Efficiency)

The Code of Conduct has defined some additional terms, which will be involved in the development of supplemental metrics, for future use in revised versions of the code.

● Facilities load: equipment that supports the IT load e.g. air conditioning units fans, chiller plant etc
● Facility efficiency: the ratio of IT load to Facilities load
● Asset efficiency: Utilisation of the IT equipment with reference to the power delivered to that equipment

Other information will be requested and expected for each facility, it is optional when reporting but each facility is encouraged to supply this information. This includes :-

● IT rated electrical capacity load for the facility
● Additional power measurements if available
● Inlet temperatures to the servers
● Outside ambient temperature
● Outside ambient dewpoint temperature

All information will be held confidentially and the objective is for each facility to set its own benchmarks and drive energy efficiency forward.

Participants will be allowed to use the Code’s logo on their documents and subsequently there will be additional categories of low energy champion and an annual award scheme. The EU will undertake a publicity campaign for the Code of Conduct and recognise those companies that have signed up to the scheme and those that make significant improvements.

Endorsers are those companies associated with the data centre business as equipment vendors, consultancies, standards bodies etc. They are expected to use the Code to develop products and services and persuade data centre owners and operators to sign up to the Code.

The reported information will be used anonymously by the Data Collection Working Group to report on the energy efficiency of data centres and success from the adoption of the best practices. This data would also be used to promote the Code of Conduct. Once sufficient data is available, different types of data centres can be compared and correlated to establish whether energy efficiency targets can be set.

The European Commission will remove participants from the register if they don’t make reasonable efforts to improve their energy efficiency performance.

This EU proposed Code of Practice undoubtedly has a key role to play in providing a common currency for measuring and comparing data centres’ power efficiency. Furthermore the journey taken by those of us who have participated in the consultation around the drafting of the Code has definitely contributed to a greater awareness of the issues and helped put the ‘greening’ of the data centre on the agenda of every company
that operates one.

However, once armed with an accurate and agreed measure for power consumption and IT efficiency, the next challenge for companies that operate data centres will be to reduce their overall environmental impact - a combined metric, made up of a balanced scorecard that draws from power and IT efficiency along with
building efficiency, and the processes and policies that are in place.

Given the complexity of the mandatory and voluntary controls that are in place in the data centre, it is understandable that companies are looking for a simple, clear and meaningful measure of the overall state of their data centre and some recommendations on what they can easily, and cost effectively do to make it better.

The EU Code of Practice is a very welcome contributor to the understanding and measurement of power efficiency in the data centre. The next step for companies is to integrate the Code with other data points,
regulations and best practice in order to identify the priority actions they can take to reduce power, save money and improve the environmental impact of their data centre.

● Dr Kevin Ayling is Business Development Director at Migration Solutions and a member of the stakeholders group for the EU Code of Conduct on Data Centres. Consultation with stakeholders on the latest draft is completed and the Code could be released by the end of this month.


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