I wrote in a previous post about a data center survey that found that CEOs, not CIOs, are the ones who most frequently make data center-related purchasing decisions. I noted that I wasn’t particularly surprised by that finding, but there was another finding in the same survey that did surprise me: A whopping 61 percent of the companies surveyed don’t measure their power usage effectiveness, or PUE.
I discussed that finding with Matt Miszewski, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Digital Realty, the data center operations services provider that commissioned the survey. I recognize that measuring PUE isn’t the be-all and end-all of advancing green data center operations, but the number of companies that don’t bother to measure it still seemed awfully high to me. I asked Miszewski if he was surprised by the finding, and to what he attributes the lack of focus in this area. His response:
We continue to ask questions about PUE because of our commitment to the environment. I was giving a presentation at the Uptime Institute [last week], and someone mentioned that the industry appears to be obsessed with PUE. The suggestion at that event was that it’s to the industry’s detriment, from an enterprise perspective. I believe that’s due to the concept of “greenwashing”—that there’s too much effort around suggesting that PUE is the only way to show that a company is environmentally friendly. I think that may have some impact on how many folks actually go out and measure PUE. I think it’s important for us to drive the industry to get to a complete understanding of that metric, and to a more holistic understanding of what it means to be environmentally friendly.
Miszewski went on to explain that companies need to look beyond PUE in any case:
We’ve got the engineering wherewithal to drive PUE down significantly, but there’s a cost impact. So folks have to analyze where they want to be. Those folks who are currently at 2.5 or something, may want to engage directly and go after some savings that they can get by coming to us, where we regularly provide 1.5 or 1.3 on a fully loaded basis. But I think what I want to engender, and what the number might reflect, is that if corporate boards care about sustaining the environment, there are more things than just the PUE metric to go after. For instance, we’re looking at whether we can provide renewable energy as a source for our entire portfolio of data centers. What effect would that have, and what cost benefit would that have to companies we provide [data center services for]?
I suggested to Miszewski that another factor might be a simple waning of interest in green computing, which I’ve attributed to the catchphrase phenomenon that I’ve written about before:
I’ve always gotten a kick out of the way certain catchphrases emerge in the IT realm every couple of years, and how IT vendors rush to spin their product stories around whatever catchphrase seems to be enjoying the most hype at the time. Ten years ago, it was all about the emergence of “utility computing.” When that became blasé, everybody jumped on the “green computing” bandwagon. That morphed into the “cloud computing” frenzy, which now has also become kind of ho-hum. Fortunately for the IT marketing crowd, “Big Data” swooped in to capture the imagination of an industry that seems to suffer from a communal attention deficit disorder.
I asked Miszewski if he thinks that’s a factor in this discussion. He said he thinks it is:
I find it a little unfortunate. It became a way for companies to try to convince you that they cared about the environment. And then it lost its credibility, because everyone was saying it, therefore the term meant almost or absolutely nothing to people who were buying. Fortunately or unfortunately, because of what’s happening in the environment, and what will eventually happen in terms of government regulation, and credits that will start to be traded at some point in the future, companies are going to start to care a great deal more about PUE, because of the cost impact. I certainly wish they would care about it from an environmental perspective, but I don’t think that’s what’s going to drive it. I think economics are going to get us back to this conversation. But as I was saying, for a company that has a commitment to the environment, there’s a ton of other stuff that shows a real commitment to the environment, on top of PUE measure.
Given that this was a global survey, I noted that my guess would be that the number of firms measuring PUE in Europe would be relatively high compared to the United States, so it would follow that the percentage of U.S. companies measuring PUE is even lower than the numbers shown in the survey. I asked Miszewski if he agreed with that, and he said that while he hadn’t looked at the data, his sense was that’s indeed the case:
I do agree with that in terms of the conversations I have with European firms on a regular basis, and the history that I’ve had. I’ve worked at a couple of other companies where my conversations with European enterprises are far more focused on real environmental commitment, as opposed to simply hitting one particular metric.