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Summary:

Last week, several important players in the computing industry got together at the Green Grid Technical Forum to continue trying to come up with metrics that measure how efficiently a data center operates, essentially how “green” it is. This is apparently harder than it looks due […]

Last week, several important players in the computing industry got together at the Green Grid Technical Forum to continue trying to come up with metrics that measure how efficiently a data center operates, essentially how “green” it is. This is apparently harder than it looks due to a wide variety of factors, from the weather where a data center is located to the type of equipment it uses, even the type of compute work the data center does.

But members of the Green Grid, founded last year, are still trying. The only problem is, they’re not really getting anywhere. After a year of working on metrics, the group announced a single formula to measure efficiency. The results were anticlimactic to say the least.


The metric, called data-center infrastructure efficiency, or DCiE, is essentially a measure of the power consumed by the data center divided by the power consumed by IT. As metrics go, it’s too broad to be really useful. The operators of data centers have a couple of problems that stretch beyond simply measuring the power needed to run servers or to cool the data center.

Data centers can’t rip out and replace all of the existing equipment, so any efficiency gains from greener servers will come slowly. Additionally, the vendors of that equipment don’t really have a good set of measurements of how green the equipment is. Sure, individual chips may be listed as low power, but that’s only one component of a box. Add to that the processing power required by software (is clean code, green?), and you begin to see the magnitude of the problem facing the poor data center operator.

If the industry manages to create climate-neutral data centers, as Hosting.com announced earlier this week (I’m still not sure how), the demand for computing services still makes it difficult for data centers to ever stop consuming so much of the nation’s energy. Right now, current estimates range from .06 percent to as much as 2 percent. Since I don’t see anyone cutting back on computing, work on data center efficiency needs to continue. Measuring the progress might have to come later.

By Stacey Higginbotham

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  1. This is a really interesting debate. One key challenge is achieveing climate neautral at large scales, as there are several good examples of smaller centres.

    On of our members at UnLtdWorld.com for example runs Solar Host: http://www.solarhost.co.uk/ – 100% solar-powered web-hosting.

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  2. Stacey,

    You raise many important issues. No doubt, reaching energy efficient data center Nirvana is going to take time. But in the meantime, high impact incremental steps, not a massive overhaul, are needed and will make a difference. Things as simple as changing to energy efficient light bulbs in
    your house result in meaningful savings, and we should explore equivalent steps at the data center level.

    For instance, new energy efficient storage technologies, such as MAID 2.0 are available today, simple to deploy, and result in significant power
    savings. MAID 2.0 is a process that essentially puts storage disks to sleep when not in use. Unlike previous MAID technologies, MAID 2.0 does not involve any loss of performance because the disks are put into one of three possible standby modes, like a laptop that sleeps after 10, 15 or 30 minutes of
    inactivity but can instantly get back to work when needed. MAID 2.0 enables energy savings of up to 50 percent.

    This is meaningful as the EPA estimates that American data centers will consume over 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2011 if new techniques like MAID 2.0 are not adopted.

    This is a critical issue. After servers, disk storage with disks spinning 24 hours a day, are the next big power draw in a data center. While MAID 2.0 is not a silver bullet, it can provide immediate benefits while the industry continues to grapple with the longer-term metrics and more far-reaching solutions.

    Bob Woolery, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Nexsan

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  3. Green energy is definitely the best solution in most cases. Technology like solar energy, wind power, fuel cells, zaps electric vehicles, EV hybrids, etc have come so far recently. Green energy even costs way less than oil and gas in many cases.

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  4. [...] The Quest for Green Data Centers [...]

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  5. [...] and IT. Finally, the report calls for an industry-wide efficiency metric for data centers, although as we’ve previously argued, getting such a metric in place will be a challenge. Doing these things should both decrease energy [...]

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