Datacentres have become an increasing focus for green IT because of the amount of energy they use and carbon emissions they generate. Around half of all IT power is used in these facilities and that proportion is likely to rise as more and more IT moves to the cloud. So comparing data centre’s on how they use power and the CO2 emissions they generate is important.
Much of the focus has been on the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric devised by the Green Grid – an IT industry organisation dedicated to reducing IT power use. The PUE compares the total power used in a data centre with the power used by the IT equipment, so it’s measuring energy efficiency. The problem is that even the most efficient data centre, with a PUE approaching 1.0, may still be generating the emissions equivalent to that of a small town.
The Green Grid has recognised the issue and recently introduced new metrics which take renewable energy – wind power, solar energy, hydropower, etc. - into consideration. The Green Energy Coefficient (GEC) metric quantifies the portion of a facility’s energy that comes from green sources and Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) is an assessment of the total greenhouse gas emissions of a data centre relative to its IT energy consumption. The difference is that these two metrics acknowledge that not all energy sources are the same – some are much cleaner than others.
The significance of the type of energy used in data centres was something that Greenpeace picked up on earlier this year. The organisation ran a campaign to get Facebook to move away from its heavy reliance on coal-based power and Greenpeace activists also barricaded themselves in an ‘iPod’ at Apple’s headquarters to protest against the company’s coal-powered iCloud. Renewable energy use (or not) is becoming an increasingly visible issue among the major IT players.
It’s an issue that some IT companies have already embraced. In the US the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Partnership publishes a quarterly ranking of green power users, based on Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), on-site generation and utility green power products. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry is well represented. The October 2012 rankings show Intel and Microsoft in first and third places respectively, with Cisco, Sprint and Dell also in the top 50.
But Google has gone further. The company declined to take part in the Green Power Partnership rankings this time because one-off REC purchases are counted towards green energy use, whereas Google prefers longer term contracts with renewable energy suppliers. RECS effectively pay for the extra cost of renewable generation, rather than for the power itself, whereas most of Google’s $1bn renewable energy investment has gone directly to the developers that have built the generating facilities – typically wind farms and solar plants.
Of course it’s much easier for some IT companies to use renewable energy than others. GreenQloud, for example, has launched cloud computing and data storage services hosted at renewable energy-powered facilities. But the company has the distinct advantage that it’s based in Iceland, a country that has 100% renewable geothermal and hydro energy infrastructure and a cool climate.
But what’s interesting about the move by IT companies towards renewable energy is the fact that they are prepared to stand up and be counted. GreenQloud says it will ‘strongly advocate and evangelise’ the adoption of renewable energy power in IT. Google went even further when it withdrew from the Green Power Partnership – it’s not just about using renewable energy it’s about supporting the renewable industry. This advocacy of renewable energy, together with innovative technology, such as fuel cells, that can use a variety of fuels in a cleaner way to power data centres, looks like the way forward for greener data centres.
This is a sponsored post, but, as always, the words and thoughts are mine.