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Datacentre emissions on the agenda

14 June 2010

The IT sector emits the same amount of CO2 as the airline industry. The demand on datacentres – an essential part of the modern technological landscape – is growing, as Lee Kilminster explains While volatile energy prices have been felt across the whole range of building types in recent years, it is the now datacentre that has arguably been the hardest hit.

These cost increases are driving managers to revisit the way datacentres are managed, closely linked with the ethical desire to manage the centres in a more environmentally friendly way. As usual, the bottom line and the environment are inextricably linked.
Datacentres are an essential part of the modern technological landscape. It is estimated by Greenpeace that energy consumption in datacentres will triple by 2020 as a result of their proliferation and that this extra consumption must be mitigated to reduce their environmental impact. What is beyond doubt is that this growth in energy use is based primarily on the increased use of datacentres. Overall, the IT industry accounts for around 2 per cent of global carbon output, roughly equivalent to the aviation industry, but the use of large datacentres coupled with other efficiencies is painting a complex picture of how the sector will develop.
The recent launch of the iPad has focussed attention on one particular feature of modern datacentres - cloud computing, a system where information and processes are accessed through a network rather than a local server. Google operates on the same basis and the UK government has its own cloud computing strategy. Cloud computing is attractive because it offers centralised resources and delivers cost savings and other efficiencies related to economies of scale.
A Greenpeace report published in April called Make IT Green – cloud computing and its contribution to climate change, welcomed the cost and energy savings associated with the new generation of datacentres but questioned whether the benefits were all that were claimed when the energy sources were from unsustainable fuels. It called on the leading lights of the IT industry, the likes of Facebook and Google, to press for greater use of sustainable energy sources to gain the full benefits of the new efficiencies.
Organisations from Europe, the US and Japan have also recently reached a global accord on the measurement of energy efficiency, giving datacentre operators a better understanding of how to improve efficiency at their own sites. The proposals were put forward at a meeting in February to discuss rising energy consumption at datacentres.
The organisations have recommended a number of standards, including The Green Grid's Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) as the base metric for energy efficiency. PUE is the measurement of total energy used divided by IT energy consumption. Also on the agenda was improved measurement capabilities to make it easier to measure power use down to the individual server level, for example. The ultimate goal is to create a set of globally accepted metrics for datacentre energy efficiency.
April also saw two UK industry bodies pooling resources to help prevent UK datacentre operators from losing business because of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC).
There is a strong business incentive to meet such legislation regardless of any governmental carrot or stick. That is why many organisations are already well ahead of the legislation when it comes to meeting environmental targets. Our own recent survey found that well over half of all facilities managers think that the main driver of improved energy efficiency is not to meet regulations but to cut carbon emissions and costs. Many
organisations are clearly ahead of the game and will maintain their own momentum in cutting emissions and energy use.
● Lee Kilminster is Customer Marketing Manager - Purchasing & Electronics at RS Components


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