Industry Perspective: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Sources for the Data Center

February 6, 2013 5 Comments »
Industry Perspective: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Sources for the Data Center

Industry Perspective is a regular Data Center Journal Q&A series that presents expert views on market trends, technologies and other issues relevant to data centers and IT.

This week, Industry Perspective asks Lisa Rhodes about the relevance of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources for data center operators. Lisa is vice president of marketing and sales for Verne Global, a data center company that owns and operates a facility in Keflavik, Iceland.

Industry Perspective: How critical are energy-efficiency measures to the average data center?

Lisa Rhodes: With data centers consuming more than 1.5% of total electricity usage worldwide and data center carbon emissions set to quadruple by 2020, according to the EPA, energy efficiency is a critical issue for any data center operator. Key factors contributing to this rise include

  • Escalating demand for computing resources: there are over 2.4 billion Internet users worldwide, and that number is expected to grow by 8% for the next few years.
  • Increasing amounts of energy needed for data center power and cooling requirements: in 2012, Gartner reported that energy-related costs account for nearly 12% of the overall data center expenditure, and it’s the fastest-rising cost in the data center campus.
  • Global rising energy costs: Ernst & Young published a survey in September that found 38% of global executives expect energy costs to rise by 15% or more in the next five years. The report also found that 42 of respondents spend at least $50 million annually on energy expenses and another 27% spend in excess of $100 million annually.

All of these factors combined have led to a point where greening the data center is now a must-have and no longer a nice-to-have.

IP: What kinds of environmental regulations are having the greatest effect on data centers, and what might be on the horizon?

LR: In the last few years, the United Kingdom and United States have both tried to address this issue with initiatives and proposals designed to combat the carbon emissions brought on by fossil-fuel-powered data centers. Britain’s CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, formerly the Carbon Reduction Commitment, has estimated that the Scheme will reduce carbon emissions by over one million tons per year by 2020. The Scheme aims to encourage organizations that are responsible for 10% of the U.K.’s emissions to develop energy-management strategies that provide better understanding of energy usage. The broader European Commission also established a Code of Conduct on Data Centres’ Energy Efficiency. Designed to drive data center infrastructure efficiency from 50% or less across most European data center campuses to the 80% range, the Code of Conduct primarily focused on voluntary compliance measures that could possibly lead to legislation down the road.

In the U.S., President Obama recently made headlines with an emphasis on climate change during his second Inaugural Address. Starting this month, policy-forum meetings are getting underway to discuss how renewable energy can be a key component of economic growth in the United States. Policymakers and businesses will come together to make recommendations on tax incentives and energy policy for the U.S. renewable-energy market in 2013.

IP: Is reliance on renewable energy sources feasible for most data centers?

LR: One of the trends that we are seeing across the technology industry as a whole is how data centers no longer need to be tethered to the population centers that they serve. Companies are empowered to segment their business applications and choose platforms that match technical, financial and sustainability goals for each business application. The tragedy of Hurricane Sandy really highlighted that a place like New York, although close to a population center, is not an always an ideal location for the critical equipment that data centers use to deliver services. Companies now have the option of having data stored in multiple locations, which means they are able to take advantage of locations where better and more-abundant renewable energy resources are available.

IP: What is the energy mix for Verne Global’s Iceland data center?

LR: Verne Global runs off of Iceland’s power grid, which is 100% powered by renewable geothermal and hydroelectric energy resources.

IP: What can data centers in more moderate climates learn from Verne Global’s data center?

LR: Verne Global’s data center campus has definitely been a pioneering effort, and we have learned some key lessons that can be applicable to the rest of the industry. Every data center, for example, houses applications that can be located outside of Tier 1 cities. These can be applications high in power consumption, applications low in network latency needs or even backup recovery that doesn’t need to be in a location that requires paying a premium for power costs. With cloud computing and virtualization driving so many IT business decisions today, it is important for data center managers to map out the flexibility of their applications and make smart choices about where they can be located. They may be surprised to find that nontraditional sites can be the right decision for their business needs.

Image backgrounds courtesy of bytesrc, seeweb and midom.

About Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark is editor for the Data Center Journal. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Richmond, as well as master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech. An author and aspiring renaissance man, his interests range from quantum mechanics and processor technology to drawing and philosophy.

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