The Quest for Green Data Centers

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 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.