Data centre emissions: Turning up the heat

A UK service provider explains why turning up the heat in parts of the data centre could save energy and reduce data centre emissions.

One of the most significant contributors to an organisation's energy consumption is IT, and data centre emissions in particular. The Carbon Reduction Commitment (or CRC Energy Scheme) has made it more important than ever for data centres to be built to a high specification for maximum energy efficiency. As the UK's first mandatory carbon trading scheme, it affects around 5,000 organisations and is compulsory for large organisations using more than 6,000 MWh/year of half-hourly metered electricity -- or around £500,000 in electricity bills.

Under the scheme, businesses must measure and record energy use and calculate carbon dioxide emissions. They are then required to purchase carbon allowances to cover the emissions. In April the first auction took place where bidders bought allowances to cover their 2010 emissions, and their forecast 2011 emissions. A league table will then be published annually, once businesses have reported their carbon emissions.

Functions across the entire business are likely to be affected by this scheme, so companies must look at their carbon output for all departments, from marketing, logistics, human resources, finance and production to legal and regulatory affairs.

Reducing data centre emissions
The Easynet Energy Centre at Schiphol-Rijk (the Netherlands), which has been operational since October 2008, was a major challenge to construct. The live environment already in place had to be transformed into a data centre that would achieve maximum energy efficiency. At Easynet we managed to reduce CO2 emissions by 1,726 tons per year, comparable to the amount emitted by 191 standard households.

The temperature in parts of the Easynet data centre is currently kept at 21 degrees Celsius. After consulting with customers, ambient temperature in over half of the data centre has been raised to 26 degrees C. Hardware vendors now guarantee that current equipment will continue working properly at 26 or 27 degrees. Effective operation at higher temperatures makes an enormous difference to cooling-based power consumption, especially in the warm summer months. The standard of quality for servers and other equipment now completely eliminates the need to over-cool data centres; therefore data centres can discharge fewer emissions.

But is the market ready to turn up the heat in data centres? For instance, how does this work for managed hosting? Here, all the hosting activities are handed to a company that uses a data centre and monitors the equipment itself, without customer intervention. The customer signs SLAs with its hosting provider to assure continuity and availability, trusting that applications will run and the data is safe. The temperature and infrastructure is not an issue for the customer, as long as applications keep running according to the SLAs.

This issue requires a more proactive approach, and it is high time to stop pointing fingers at others and to start getting things done.

Ben Timmer, head of data centre management, Easynet Global Services,

Who is responsible when the temperature is five or six degrees higher? The data centre owner should not take full responsibility in such a situation. Hardware vendors should also take responsibility and, for example, modify their warranties to include continued operation at higher temperatures.

Software developers should also make their products more effective. Why should every single application load when a computer boots up? Why not only load the required applications to save CPU power consumption? If that principle would be applied to operating systems all over the world, the amount of energy saved would be phenomenal.

The energy delivery chain in a data centre, from its building entrance to its CPU, could also be improved. The data centre electricity mains brings in AC current from the energy provider, which is converted into DC current to continuously charge the UPS once it reaches the data centre. Switching back and forth from AC to DC current is clearly hugely inefficient. Further research is needed to investigate how these transformation processes could be skipped and made more efficient. Servers that run on DC power already exist; why is this not the industry standard? In line with its commitment to increase energy efficiency, Easynet sees a need for further discussion and collaboration with all the parties involved.

Today's technology is sufficiently advanced to make energy efficiency and carbon reduction a real option. The gaps have been identified, but more must be done. Data centres play an important role already, and with the rise of modern communication needs that are driven either by interpersonal communication or by machine to machine communication, their roles will grow more imminent over time.

This issue requires a more proactive approach, and it is high time to stop pointing fingers at others and to start getting things done. Pursuing industry collaboration and establishing agreements are crucial for achieving effective change in reducing data centre emissions.

Ben Timmer is the head of data centre management at service provider Easynet Global Services and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK.

Read more on Datacentre energy efficiency and green IT