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Codes for Efficiency

09 August 2010

Increasingly, daily life at home and at work relies on ICT and energy hungry datacentres. Pioneers are making strides towards making them more energy efficient and standards are beginning to catch up, as Frank Booty reports

THE INFORMATION AND communications technology (ICT) sector is expected to see demand for its services quadruple, in less than a decade. By 2020 data centres will have an 18 percent share of the overall ICT emissions carbon dioxide (up from 14 percent now); the telecoms infrastructure and devices will have a 25 percent share (down from 37 percent) and PCs and peripherals will go up to 57 percent (from 49 percent).
Such is the pace of technological change, just three years ago, data centres consumed 330bn kWh electricity and telecoms 293bn kWh but by 2020 these figures are projected to be 1,012.02bn kWh and 951.72bn kWh, respectively. (Source: Greenpeace).
Data centres are absolutely necessary for running modern ICT society and uniterrupted power is needed to run them and, in most cases, to cool them. There are concerns that there may not be sufficient power to sustain modern society from the existing power station matrix hence the need for construction of new nuclear power stations. Current thinking is that these energy inefficient data centres cannot rely on renewable sources energy because of the strict reliability requirements, particularly of Tier 3 and 4 facilities. Running datacentres with a substantial input of renewable energy is possible but it has limitations for mission-critical applications.
EU code
An EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres was created in response to increasing energy consumption in data centres and the need to reduce the related environmental, economic and energy supply security impacts. It aims to inform and stimulate data centre operators and owners to reduce energy consumption in a cost-effective manner without hampering mission-critical functions. The Code aims to achieve this by improving understanding of energy demand within data centres, raising awareness, and recommending energy-efficient best practice and targets.
Chris Smith, sales and marketing director at on365 says, “The EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres is a sound document written with realism and some great guidance for operators. Low PUE (power usage effectiveness) announcements from organisations such as Google or Yahoo tend to muddy the waters as their claims are not realistic in the wider commercial world. They grab the green headlines but the low PUEs quoted are exceptional cases.”
He continued; “Some companies will operate a data centre without any UPSs but these are not mission-critical systems. A bank or building society providing resilient services 24x7 would not have the luxury of operating in this way. Some low PUEs are claimed by data centres that use only fresh-air cooling, but when it gets too hot or too cold, they just turn the data centre off. We have discussions with many data centre managers who in effect want ‘a PUE of 1.1 like Google’.”
BICSI standard
Now, BICSI, the international association providing education and industry intelligence to network and data centre designers, installers, security professionals and end-users, has launched in June its BICSI 002-2010, Data Centre Design and Implementation Best Practices Standard in Europe. It comes in response to growing demand demand for increasingly complex data centres to improve efficiency, maximise capacity and manage complex applications across multiple platforms.
The BICSI standard claims to be the first international guide to cover all these aspects. It contains all the requirements, recommendations and additional information that should be considered when working with site selection, thermal systems, and security. Additionally, this standard provides references to other documents and standards affecting data centres.
BICSI's standards committee states: “The BICSI data centre standard will supplement regional data centre standards. It was specifically written to supplement both the US (ANSI/TIA) and EU (CENELEC) standards.”
PFM’s June 2009 edition looked at the first facility to adopt technologies that, it was claimed, could reduce the energy cost of operating data centres by over 45 percent. I revisited it recently to find out if it lived up to expectations. Designed and built by Keysource for oil exploration surveyor, Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS), they reported that it had achieved an annualised PUE of 1.17, placing it among the most energy-efficient facilities of its kind in Europe. PGS says it has achieved for them first year savings of £650,000 and a 6.7m kWh drop in power consumption, equating to a 2.9m kg reduction in CO2 emissions.
The centre uses Keysource’s Ecofris scalable cooling solution, a free cooling system that does not require the use of additional chillers until outside temperatures reach 24ºC. This means that additional power for cooling is only needed for between 80 and 100 hours each year because the system is able to make the most of low UK ambient temperatures in combination with ‘adiabatic’ cooling.
PGS was the first organisation to adopt this Ecofris solution with the completion of the first phase of a data centre installation last year. The annualised PUE of 1.17 outperforms the design expectation of 1.2 and has been achieved as a result of Keysource’s ‘fine tuning’ process and advanced performance monitoring. A second phase of development is scheduled to commence soon, designed to increase the IT load to 1.8MW without impacting levels of efficiency or availability during the installation process.
Mike Turff, PGS global data centre manager, says, “We’re committed to reducing energy, so we needed to develop a data centre that broke the mould using proven technology to provide a safe, efficient and environmentally-responsible means of storing vital data.”
Another Keysource Ecofris-cooled data centre is at KBR, housed in a recentlyrefurbished part of KBR’s campus at Leatherhead. Opened in January this year, it had a PUE of 3.24. Today it’s 1.5. KBR’s Europe-Africa operations manager, Gordon Hollingsworth, points to the year-end target of 1.3 PUE.
Mission-critical FM consultant and BREEAM assessor, Robert Tozer, writing in a blog, believes there are three fundamental differences between office buildings and data centres that make their environmental impact so different:
● Data centres consume much more energy at least an order of magnitude more (x10)
● data centres have much less occupancy around 20 times less
● and data centres are much more intensive in IT and M&E materials (copper, aluminium, steel, etc) than office buildings.
According to Tozer, weighting of these contributing factors and estimating the impact of IT and M&E materials embodied energy to be higher than building materials, shows the difference (see left) “Although further work needs to be done, these proposed weightings
are a move in the right direction,”he said. “At least I could concentrate on improving PUE and dematerialising copper from the data centre, rather than worrying about perverse incentives, like providing cyclist facilities, natural lighting, glare control, thermal comfort, public transport provision, etc, for the man looking after the data centre. These can’t impact the environment as much as the energy consumption of the data centre.”
● Frank Booty is a freelance writer
More Info
(for Tozer’s blog 10 June, 2010)

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