Everybody wants to see a greener data center. Environmentalists want lower carbon emissions, utilities want less strain on their infrastructure and the enterprise wants a lower energy bill.
The trouble starts when the conversation shifts from developing a “greener” data center to one that is fully and finally “green.” Everyone has a different idea of what green is, and while it is nice to have a goal, there is still a danger of tasking the IT industry with fulfilling an unreachable ideal.
This could become particularly troublesome now that many of the energy efficiency initiatives that have been launched so far are starting to produce diminishing returns, says Enterprise Tech senior editor George Leopold. And this is coming at a time when mobile architectures, which require a lot more energy than wired ones, are coming to dominate the data ecosystem. So while individual data centers may be drawing less energy than, say, five years ago, overall consumption across the industry will only increase as more resources are brought online to deal with the Internet of Things and other initiatives.
But does this mean the entire green data center movement is doomed to fail? Not hardly. As innovative solutions like Norway’s Green Mountain facility attest, great strides can still be made in improving the energy consumption-to-data productivity ratio, and that can only help to support burgeoning demands for data and data services without causing undue damage to the environment. But the fact remains that even the most environmentally friendly facility will still produce negative consequences, either in its energy usage, disposal of obsolete equipment, or impact on the immediate environment.
Fortunately, organizations like the Green Grid are shifting the nature of the argument away from the green data center and more toward the adoption of collective efforts to reduce energy consumption. Of late, the organization has been talking up issues like cleaner energy production, livable habitats and more effective utilization of data infrastructure as a whole. The data center, after all, is only one piece of a larger equation that encompasses energy production, distribution and the purposes to which it is put to use. This probably won’t appease those who continue to seek out the “bad guys” in the environmental debate, but at least it places the issues of data infrastructure and energy usage in their proper context.
The question remains, though. What, if anything can be done to maintain the efficiency gains that have already taken root in the data industry? The U.S. government recently launched a voluntary program designed to improve data efficiency another 20 percent, but it has gathered few supporters outside of those who provide services or infrastructure to federal agencies. Quite often, though, big movements grow out of small ones, and if today’s participants can demonstrate real progress in reducing energy costs, it could become a template for a whole new round of green development. If not, well, it would be just one more example of government wishful thinking running into cold, hard reality.
Of course, the worst thing that the data industry could do is place energy consumption on the back burner because the public would see it as corporate arrogance placing profits ahead of environmental sustainability. As long as the data center industry can argue that it is making continued progress on the energy front, it should get a pass from all but the most ardent energy critics.
When it comes to the environment these days, effort counts almost as much as results.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.