Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Open Data Center Alliance releases a carbon footprint usage model

Open Data Centre Alliance The Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) is the organisation launched back in October with the objective of defining usage models that will help IT users choose open, interoperable, industry-standard solutions in their data centres. It has expanded significantly since it was set up and now has 280 member companies.

Anyway, it has now come up with the first eight of its usage models, which fall within four areas:

  • Secure Federation
    • Security Monitoring
    • Security Provider Assurance
  • Automation
    • IO Control
    • VM Interoperability
  • Common Management and Policy
    • Regulatory Framework
  • Transparency
    • Carbon Footprint
    • Service Catalogue
    • Standard Units of Measurement for IaaS

These eight are seen as the highest priority for action and each has a number of steering group committees behind them. They are looking for feedback on the published models prior to a review, but the original idea is that vendors should create a road map to comply with the usage model within six months and have auditable compliance within 18 months.

In the case of the carbon footprint model this is top level stuff aimed at creating consistency in carbon reporting. It simply requires that vendors make carbon footprint data available through price lists so that comparisons of carbon emissions can be made by potential customers, and also that the actual emissions are summarised in customers’ monthly bills. Even then, it is not expected to be 100% accurate.

The usage model documentation points out that there are lots of reasons why the footprint will vary between suppliers, depending on hardware and software used, degree of virtualisation, efficiency of the facility, local climate, etc. But it also makes it clear that the model, as it stands at the moment, does not prescribe how any of these factors can be improved, deferring to the many existing sources of such information, including the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres.

When it comes to defining what it actually means by carbon footprint, the model takes into consideration both energy efficiency and the emissions from the source of power. So if a data centre uses only green power (zero emissions) then it will have a zero carbon footprint however efficient or inefficient it is. The actual formula for calculation is:

11-06-21 Formula V3

Note that the ‘energy overhead’ is effectively the PUE, as defined by the Green Grid.


Well it immediately raises a number of questions and I had the chance to talk with a couple of representatives from ODCA council companies last week to clarify.

It’s clear that this is a tentative first step into the minefield of carbon counting by the Alliance. It may help data centre service customers in their in-house carbon reporting, but as it stands it needs a more detailed methodology to make it effective as a comparison tool between vendors.

For instance, there is no indication how service providers should allocate the power use in a data centre between clients or how to measure dedicated data centres compared with mixed use facilities. These are issues that the Green Grid and other organisations are already grappling with and the ODCA is happy to leave them to get on with it. They’re not about to re-invent the wheel, but want to collaborate with the organisations already involved. 

So all in all this is quite a narrow requirement on vendors. As yet it’s not detailed enough to provide accurate comparisons between vendors, stand up to the increasingly detailed scrutiny of carbon reporting or enable a real comparison between service provision and an in-house solution, for example.

But this is a powerful organisation and a force for good. As long as the ODCA doesn’t actually muddy the waters through its carbon footprint usage model it should at least push the market in the right direction. In any case, ultimately the sustainability of the data centre will become much more of an issue in its own right and companies will themselves push for more information.

© The Green IT Review

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