The European Commission's Code of Conduct on Data Centres' Energy Efficiency comprises a series of voluntary, light-touch measures, expected to form the basis of more stringent legislation in the future, laying out a set of minimum standards for compliance.
The move to introduce the code of conduct at the end of last year was a recognition by the EC that datacentres are heavy and often inefficient consumers of energy - and that this problem is only set to increase. The organisation estimates that, while in 2007 datacentres in Western Europe alone used a huge 56TWh of power, this figure is likely to almost double to 104TWh by 2020 as automation and online adoption continue apace.
As such, growth rates will inevitably hinder the European Union in hitting its much-touted carbon reduction and climate change targets, such facilities are an obvious area on which to focus.
The ultimate aim of the Code, according to Andy Lawrence, research director of eco-efficient IT at analysts the 451 Group, is to drive datacentre infrastructure efficiency (DCiE) from its current levels of 50% or less at most sites to more like 80%.
But he warns: "That's very ambitious and would be very expensive to do. If everyone adopted all of the code's recommendations they could probably get to 70%, but you wouldn't get to 80% unless you made a fairly major investment."
A much less ambitious but nonetheless important objective of the document, however, is simply to make IT directors and datacentre operators aware of how inefficient their existing facilities are by encouraging them to measure power usage. This is useful, says Lawrence, because: "A few years ago, most CIOs didn't know what their electricity bill was, but now about half do - and once they do, they pay real attention to where power is being used and tend to take action because consumption is massive."
As a result, one of the requirements of signing up to the code is that interested parties with existing datacentres must submit initial energy usage measurements of at least one month's duration, before undertaking an energy audit to identify where savings can be made.
The next step is to submit an action plan, which includes a range of intended best practices which need to be implemented in only 40% of the datacentre's floor space within three years of the plan being approved by the code of conduct secretariat. Suggested measures include improving system resource utilisation by employing technologies such as virtualisation as well as optimising the design, configuration and management of energy-hungry cooling systems.
A further commitment relates to monitoring energy consumption on a regular basis and providing the EC's Directorate General Joint Research Centre (DG JRC) with an annual report outlining any improved energy efficiency practices that have been introduced. The DG JRC compares these implemented practices with the promised measures laid out in the action plan and has the right to end an organisation's participation if it believes that progress has been too slow or if members have failed to meet their reporting requirements.
A Data Collection Working Group has also been set up, meanwhile, to correlate and analyse information from all contributors in order to work out trends and potentially form the basis of energy efficiency targets in future.
Nonetheless, the DG JRC has no powers of censure beyond the right to terminate participation, as the code is not mandatory. This means there is no formal auditing process for compliance beyond the submission of self-certification documentation. There is no accreditation scheme to recognise either membership or compliance.
Lawrence explains: "They've been very careful not to frighten off anyone that's willing to change but doesn't want to make a big investment to do so. So you could say that they've been over-cautious, but they felt it was more important to get buy-in. There's also been an element of politics because the datacentre industry, which played a big role in drafting this, doesn't want to be regulated, so it was keen to make the bar as low as possible to enable self-regulation."
But the downside of this approach, as Jonathan Steel, chief executive of market research company the Bathwick Group, points out, is that the lack of either a carrot or stick means that the code could simply be ignored. Although he does acceed that it could be used to set standards by other organisations, such as ISO.
"It's mainly a set of aspirations to make people think about what they should do, so I'd imagine that government departments and bodies such as Intellect might use it as the basis for best practice or for procurement and consultants and vendors will use it as an opportunity to sell products and services. But most companies have got other things to worry about at the moment," he says.
As a result, while the code may act as a stake in the ground to see how the market responds, it is unlikely to be taken up beyond those organisations that have done a lot of work already in terms of boosting energy efficiency and wish to have such activity endorsed, not least to exploit the positive PR aspects.
Despite reported murmurs of interest from organisations such as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, BT and Microsoft at the end of last year, Lex Coors, director of engineering at co-location and managed services provider Interxion, says not one has formally signed up so far. Coors was involved in writing the code alongside members of other organisations such as the British Computer Society.
He attributes this reluctance to the proposed correlation and analysis of data undertaken by contracted members of private sector consultancies, rather than the EU itself. This constitutes a breach of security for companies such as his own, claims Coors, and puts off others with fears about confidentiality.
Nonetheless, Lawrence believes that if the proposition does not work as a voluntary code, it is likely to become mandatory. "Our view is that it will eventually end up as legislation. It wouldn't be especially tough to begin with - more minimum standards that everyone has to reach. But it could lead to a more stringent system with tougher targets over time," he concludes.
Read more about datacentre efficiency: