The Uptime Institute has started a competition to see who can remove most unused servers from their data centre. According to the Institute there will be two winners, one for most IT equipment removed and one for the largest percentage of IT equipment taken out. “We don’t care how you get there … Just unplug and decommission those machines”.
The idea is to save energy. The Institute believes that 10% of most companies’ servers are probably doing nothing, so wasting power and cooling resources. Just taking out one rack server can save $500 per year in energy, another $500 in software licenses and $1,500 in hardware maintenance costs, says the organisation.
Unfortunately, though, the emphasis seems to be entirely on cost savings, with little regard to the carbon emissions implications. The competition is focused on getting rid of “out-of-date, obsolete servers” with no thought to the embedded carbon in the devices. You just need to show that the servers are no longer plugged in and provide the UPS output readings before and after the change to prove the energy savings.
The fact that the promotional blurb describes this as more than just “shaving a point off your PUE” just highlights the shortcomings of the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) as a carbon-saving measure. The PUE only measures the efficiency of power use in the data centre.
According to a paper last December from researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Green Design Institute, there is more carbon generated in the manufacture and delivery of an IBM rack-mounted server than there is in its entire lifetime of use. The best way to save the planet is to maximise the use of devices by reusing them elsewhere, if possible, or otherwise ensuring proper recycling, so as to minimise the carbon required to build a new one. Electronic Product Stewardship and waste disposal schemes around the world emphasise the importance of reuse and recycling in reducing carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, this competition is primarily focused on saving power costs by decommissioning servers, with little reference (as far as I can see) to what happens to them next. A golden opportunity missed. With hardware manufacturers working hard to minimise the carbon footprint of products, the Uptime Institute could have helped.
If you want to enter the competition, the winners will receive free passes to the Uptime Institute Symposium next year. But do, please, ensure that decommissioned equipment is disposed of in the most carbon-efficient way.