Now that The New York Times has weighed in somewhat belatedly on the whole issue of energy consumption in massive data centers, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the fallout from the controversy created by that coverage.
There’s no doubt that the report left much to be desired in terms of accuracy. Relying in some instances on energy consumption rates that are more than a half-decade old doesn’t do justice to the companies that run these massive data centers. Most of the companies rely on the efficiency of their data center operations to drive profitability. That doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for significant amounts of improvement, especially when it comes to the use of diesel generators in disaster recovery systems. But the utilization rates within these massive data centers today are a lot better today than the Times report implies.
Nevertheless, Kathrin Winkler, vice president and chief sustainability Officer at EMC, says the controversy being generated by the report is shining a spotlight on an issue that many business executives have ignored. As a result of the Times coverage, Winkler says more business executives will be asking tougher questions about both the cost of running a data center and its economic impact. That may not have much of an impact on so-called Tier One data centers run by companies such as Facebook and Google, but it will probably have some impact on large data centers run by more traditional enterprise IT organizations that don’t invest in modern data center systems as aggressively. Those organizations may not only find themselves being asked tough questions about the total cost of running a data center when energy costs are factored in, but also whether it simply makes more economic and political sense to take more advantage of data centers offering cloud computing services that are managed by someone else.
Of course, the two major challenges with relying on cloud services are that organizations will soon find themselves being charged back for carbon consumption by the providers of those services anyway; and most IT organizations have no real visibility into the energy efficiency of the IT infrastructure equipment being used to provide those services.
As a result, Greg Johnson, director of software sales for North America at Schneider Electric, argues that the most lasting impact of all this newfound interest in data center energy consumption is going to be greater investment in monitoring tools. Johnson says IT organizations can’t really start addressing issues that they have no visibility into. In general, Johnson says IT organizations have not been investing enough in data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools, which would go a long way to more readily identifying issues that most IT organizations would move to fix if they were more apparent.
However, it’s not like most organizations have been of one mind when it comes to energy consumption in the data center. In fact, IT executives and people who manage facilities within large organizations have often been at loggerheads for years. The good news is that thanks to the additional scrutiny from the board, shareholders and the media, the time to address who is actually going to be held accountable for data center energy consumption in the data center — and just as importantly, rewarded for fixing the problem — may finally be at hand.