Monday, 20 May 2013

Data centre energy efficiency – are smaller companies giving up?

imageLast week the Uptime Institute presented the results of its 2013 Data Center Industry Survey at the Institute’s annual Symposium in California. Among the findings were the fact that only 56% of data centre operators reported that data centre efficiency is very important and it’s much more significant outside the US.

The email survey received more than 1000 responses, although with a heavy North American bias – 56% were from North America, with 18% from Europe and 13% from APAC. The majority (80%+) of respondents managed more than one site. The preliminary results are on the Uptime Institute website and there was more coverage of the presentation at the Symposium in Computerworld.

According to the Computerworld article, only half of the data centre managers in North America that responded thought energy efficiency is very important to their companies, a figure that has fallen each year for the last three years. The numbers were lower for smaller data centres and Matt Stansberry, Uptime Institute's director of content and publications, suggested a couple of reasons. One practical reason is that smaller companies do not have the engineers on hand to handle changes, but Stansberry also suggested that the managers of smaller data centres are frustrated at not being able to keep up with the standards that companies like Google are setting.

Among the more depressing findings of the survey were that:

  • In 80% of cases facilities management paid the data centre power bill. IT paid in only 16% of cases and 4% of respondents didn’t know who paid.

  • Only 21% reported carbon emissions from the data centre, with Europe leading the way on 30%. Organisations managing over 5,000 servers are twice as likely to report their data centre carbon footprint.

  • 33% of respondents do not measure their data centre Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). A total of 90% of large organisations make the calculation, but only half of smaller companies. Europe has the strongest adoption – 76% – and nearly all data centre service providers worldwide know their PUE.



There is a tendency to take a global view the efforts of the IT industry to be more energy efficient, but the results of this survey are a reminder that efforts vary. There are two main reasons for geographical differences – energy costs and legislation. The fact that European data centres tend to be greener than their North American counterparts can be put down to higher energy costs and the impact of increasing carbon emissions legislation across the continent.

What’s less obvious is the difference between large and small companies. Clearly its easier for large companies to benefit from economies of scale and available investment to make data centres more energy efficient. And the potential payback in energy costs can be reinvested in even greater savings. Smaller companies don’t have this luxury – the case for making changes is harder to make – so they may just choose to pass some of the increasing workload on to service providers or hosting companies.

It’s the service providers/internet companies who are investing most in going green. They tend to have the largest economies of scale to leverage, as well as the incentive to maximise energy savings and save costs. Other companies have more pressing priorities.

This is most apparent when it comes to PUEs. As I reported a couple of weeks ago, it seems that data centre PUEs are not as good as headlines suggest. With the largest service providers and IT companies boasting PUEs down around 1.1, for smaller companies those levels are unrealistic and they may just have given up trying. To make the data centre industry greener perhaps we need to focus less on best practice and more on what even the smallest facility can achieve.

© The Green IT Review

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