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Datacentre sector's energy consumption habits "overlooked" by campaigners

CTO of automation management firm ponders why the energy consumption habits of datacentres are not given the same level of scrutiny as other industries

The datacentre industry’s energy consumption habits are being largely ignored by campaign groups because so few people understand what goes on inside them, it is claimed.

Anne Currie, CTO of automation management provider Microscaling Systems, made the assertion at the inaugural HumanOps meetup in central London on 19 May 2016, during a talk about how the resource efficiency of datacentres may become more tightly scrutinised over time.

“The average efficiency of resource use globally across datacentres is around 10 to15%, which seems a bit bad, and it might be that it’s impossible to get higher than that,” she said.

“But that’s not the case, because there are companies worldwide that are doing considerably better. Netflix is achieving around 50% efficiency, and Google 65 to 70% efficiency. So it is doable, but we could do better.”

Currie also pointed to figures featured in the Economist in March 2016 that suggest the datacentre sector consumes around 2% of the energy produced in the world.

This is on a par with the amount of energy consumed by the aviation industry, whose activities are far more closely monitored by environmental lobbyists and campaign groups than the datacentre sector is.

“The aviation industry – an industry people consider to be a terribly high consumer of energy – is similar at around 2-2.5% of the world’s energy use,” she said.

“But people campaign against new runways, they really care. Yet no one campaigns against new datacentres being opened. Is that fair that we don’t suffer that while the aviation industry does?

“The aviation industry is a terribly efficient industry that really doesn’t want to be using any fuel it doesn’t have to, because it’s a key part of what makes them competitive,” Currie added.

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The datacentre industry should, however, prepare itself for that to change as the general public becomes more aware of the roles these facilities play in the underlying delivery of the services they use every day.  

“From an operatives perspective, I’m extremely happy it’s not a pressure on me to be more efficient in my datacentre use. It’s a huge relief that people aren’t campaigning outside my house because my apps are too bloated and not resource efficient,” she said.

“But, from a human perspective, I can’t help but feel it’s not a good thing that no one’s putting any pressure on us [as an industry], and we’re only getting away with it because no one has the faintest idea of what goes on in a datacentre.”

The datacentre industry’s track record on energy efficiency and carbon emission is now regularly reviewed by the likes of Greenpeace and The Green Grid.

Meanwhile, Digital Realty told Computer Weekly in February 2016 that operators should prepare for the introduction of regulations designed to lower their energy use and carbon emissions in due course.

Read more on Datacentre energy efficiency and green IT