Weekly Update

Green IT, Meet Green Building

A few weeks ago, I attended the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum in San Francisco. One of the speakers, Bob Davis of energy-management company Sentilla, told a story about visiting a green building in San Jose that had earned a Platinum-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program — but to meet that certification, it had excluded the data center part of the facility from review (watch the video here, around 17:42).

That meant the building (likely the Adobe complex in San Jose, as it is one of the only certified Platinum buildings in that city) was skirting a major energy use issue. According to Davis, the data center was stocked with out-of-date, inefficient gear and poorly organized. The result? When he visited, the data center accounted for 47 percent of the building’s total energy use.

The story illustrates a problem with the current trajectory of green data center planning — a disconnect between green building and green IT. However, there are some signs that green data centers are poised to leap the gap and take a big, green step forward.

Today, much of the green data center work that’s been done has focused on reworking an existing facility — or building out new ones — with an eye on more efficient hardware, server virtualization, and reducing the power load from cooling. Most of these efforts have focused on cost-reduction, historically — and for good reasons. For example, EMC, which released its annual corporate sustainability report this week, expects to save $13 million over the next three years from green IT practices at its Westborough, Mass., data center.

But these days, it’s not all about cost. I’ve noted before that there’s a bit of debate about whether corporate adoption of green IT is being driven by both cost and corporate responsibility; but increasingly, surveys seem to show that companies care about the environmental benefits of their green data center plans as much as — if not more than — the financial ones. As companies see the environment, not just cost, as a driver of green IT efforts, they may be ready to turn increased attention to greening the buildings that house their IT gear.

Some companies have shown success in this direction already — IBM, Citi and Advanced Data Centers have all made recent announcements — but there’s plenty of room for growth, particularly in today’s market.

According to a study released this week by real estate firm Grub & Ellis, the credit crunch halted speculative data center development, leaving big users with just six large-scale options on the market today and few new projects in the pipeline. Digital media, the smart grid, the ongoing shift to the cloud, and federal e-government and online health services are all going to require large data center capacity; if CIOs really are shifting their focus to environmental issues — the time could be ripe for new, data center designs that are green from the ground up.

Question of the week

Will economic pressures help or hurt green data center development?