Recently, I attended the DataCenteres 2012 conference in Nice, France, where I presented a masterclass in optimizing data centers for energy efficiency by observing fundamental infrastructure best practices. In addition to the many interesting and informative topics covered that will shape the future of data centers—from evaporative cooling to innovations in containerized and modular data centers—I was not surprised to see that energy efficiency and sustainability remain as top concerns for today’s data center managers.
While attending, I was asked to give my thoughts on what fundamental energy challenges tomorrow’s data centers will need to overcome. Obviously, there is no simple answer to this question, as approaches to efficiency and sustainability in data center environments are always evolving. But while there is much that can be done within the walls of the data center to promote sustainable and efficient energy use (many outlined in the Energy Logic approach), it is becoming clear that the sustainability challenges facing data center managers of today and tomorrow will soon extend well beyond the data center infrastructure – with more scrutiny being placed on companies and data centers touting “green” computing efforts than ever before.
Earlier this year Greenpeace issued a report that asked the question “How Clean is Your Cloud,” which emphasized the idea that the “greenness” of data centers will soon be evaluated based on the energy sources being used, in addition to the sustainability and efficiency characteristics of the data center and equipment housed within. Conventional wisdom has been that efficiency and sustainability best practices in the design and deployment of IT and facility infrastructures are the fundamental characteristics of a “green” data center. However, Greenpeace contends that this is only half of the equation, and that the sustainability of the energy source (i.e. coal and fossil fuels versus wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, etc)— as well as energy transparency, infrastructure sitting, greenhouse gas mitigation and the advocacy for the use of renewables—should be factored in to how “green” a data center is perceived. This report called out many of the largest and most prolific players in the technology industry and sparked significant outcry from companies that have long promoted and demonstrated the sustainability of their data centers only to be given low marks on their environmental impact.
While there has been much debate about the study and its evaluation of data center sustainability—with a varying perspectives from companies cited in the report, leading data center blogs and top trade media— it raises the important point that it is no longer enough to focus on the data center and its infrastructure to assess the environmental impact of your IT operations. Business leaders of today and tomorrow should begin to take a keener look at the supply chain for their energy sources and evaluate where renewable or sustainable energy sources may be used to supplement and/or ultimately replace conventional energy sources. However, as greater attention is placed on the use of renewable energy in data center environments, the availability, resiliency and complexities of these energy sources will ultimately come into question – particularly for data centers that demand the highest levels of uptime.
We have the ability to further frame this discussion as an industry through participation with The Green Grid, who is actively addressing the many issues around the concept of resource effective IT eco-systems. I highly encourage you to join, participate, and bring your voice and that of your organization to this important discussion.
There are certainly bound to a variety of opinions on the topic of what role alternative energy sources should play in the greening of data centers, so I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post. You can also connect with me via Twitter (@JackPouchet) or via email (email@example.com) to weigh in on this report and if/how energy sources should factor in to perceptions of data center sustainability.