The Many Shades of Green IT

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Six Tips for a Greener Data Center

Create better airflow in the data center.

Energy costs may fluctuate over both the long and short term, but that hasn't stopped IT from making steady progress in both consumption and carbon emissions over the past decade.

But what may appear to be a smooth trend line across the industry as a whole turns out to be a little more choppy when you drill down to individual facilities. The nature of the beast is that not all efficiency measures carry equal weight, and what may produce dramatic results in one environment may prove less-effective or even detrimental results in others.

Small wonder, then, that many organizations haven't shown much progress following the initial burst of efficiency following server virtualization, despite the steady release of energy efficiency guidelines from both government and industry sources. In the end, however, are these really helping or just adding to the confusion?

Take The Green Grid's latest endeavor. The organization that has been at the forefront of the "green data center" movement now has something called the "Maturity Model." The idea is to give data center managers an idea of how green they are based on how well they conform to current standards. The program outlines various metrics designed to gauge the development and implementation of policies and practices aimed at more efficient operation. Essentially, you can rate anywhere from 0, which is to say no progress at all, to 5, which places you in the visionary category employing the latest in cutting-edge technology.

Of course, this can be added to the alphabet soup of metrics that already exists to help determine various levels of "greenness." Along with the often-criticized PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness), we have the DCiE (Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency), CADE (Corporate Average Datacenter Efficiency), PPE (Power to Performance Effectiveness), and even the EnergyStar system for evaluating individual components. Making sense of all these measurements is a challenge at best, and can often lead to contradictory results in which, say, a better PUE can in fact lower your DCiE under the right circumstances.

Then there are the showcase facilities that put everyone else to shame. Naturally, new construction is the best way to experiment with innovative designs, and Europe, it seems, is already pushing the envelope further than most. IT firm Atos, for example, has teamed up with a firm called Academia Oy to build a new center in Helsinki, Finland, that not only uses natural seawater for cooling but then diverts excess heat to the local energy company to service more than 2,000 households. The center will deliver cloud services to Scandinavia and central Europe.

Not all solutions to energy efficiency are obvious, however. While it has become an article of faith that the future of IT lies in cooler climates, this is not necessarily the case. As tech writer Daniel Dern points out, desert locations also have an advantage due to their dryness. The secret to air cooling, after all, is the removal of moisture, so a drier climate will require much less cooling power. That's why companies like i/o are building in the Phoenix area, despite the notoriously high heat.

In the end, however, all the latest metrics and design practices are of limited value to average firms simply looking to meet their data requirements and maybe cut down their overhead in the process. For the vast majority of enterprises out there, there are only two metrics that really matter: Has data performance been maintained or improved, and has energy consumption been reduced? If you can continue to meet those goals, your green cred will come naturally.

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