Blog Post

Are internet companies easy targets for the green movement?

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Session Name: Data Center Dilemmas: Cost vs. Ecosystem.

Chris Albrecht
Katie Fehrenbacher
Niall McEntegart
Mark Thiele


Announcer 01:18

Please welcome your Chris Albrecht back to the stage.


Chris Albrecht 01:23

All right, everybody have a good lunch?


Chris Albrecht 01:25

Thank you. Everybody have a good lunch? Yeah? We’re near the home stretch. Even though it died last time, I said I’m going to keep with the top gear metaphor. We just went through hammerhead. There we go. If on the course of our day, we just rounded that turn. Just want to do a couple of reminders real quick. We have Wi-Fi here. It’s at Confinternet, enter the password Grange1990. Twitter, follow us, we’re at GigOM. Keep the discussion going, tag it with Structure Europe. I know we have been light on questions today, but if you want to ask a question, there are microphones right there. And if you step up to that mic, people watching on the live stream can hear your question. So I want to bring out now my colleague Katie Fehrenbacher, she is a Senior Writer with GigaOM. She is going to be talking with Niall McEntegart, he is the European Datacenter Operation Manager for Facebook, and Mark Thiele, the EVP of Data Center Technology for Switch about Data Center Dilemmas: Cost vs. Ecosystem. Please welcome out our next panel.



Katie Fehrenbacher 02:39

How is everybody? Doing good? As Chris said, my name is Katie Fehrenbacher, I’m a Senior Writer for GigaOM. I’m particularly excited to moderate this panel because in part of my life, I writhe about green technology, sustainability, and energy efficiency. So we are going to bring that topic to the Cloud. It’s one of those topics that if you’re a Data Center Operations Manager, you think about energy all the time, but from the outside perspective, people don’t really talk about how important energy is to maintaining the Cloud and keeping Data Centers running. Some of the most interesting innovation is happening in some of the technology around reducing energy consumption across the Data Center and the hardware, as well as, to a lesser extent, adding clean power. Mark was telling me backstage how in the past two years, there’s been an exponential jump in the discussion about how important energy efficiency and clean power are for the Cloud and for Data Centers. So, we’ve got Mark Thiele, who is EVP at Switch and Niall McEntegart, Data Center Operations Manager for Facebook Europe. I would love for you guys just to explain to the audience very basic about what you do and what you think in bottom terms of energy efficiency and clean power for Data Centers.

Niall McEntegart 04:13

My name is Niall McEntegart. As mentioned, I run Data Center Operations for Facebook in Europe. We’ve recently opened our new Data Center in Lulea, which Frank would have talked about a little while ago. It’s the first Data Center outside of the US and it uses 100% open computer hardware. It’s also 100% hydroelectric power supplied, it’s fully carbon-neutral supplied as well. We’re very excited and very proud of our new Data Center in LuLea, in Northern Sweden.

Mark Thiele 04:48

So again, Mark Thiele. I’ve been working for Switch for about two and a half years now, but my background is working with internal IT organizations. I’ve been doing IT infrastructure, and Data Centers, and Cloud, and virtualization not all at the same time, but for about the last 25 years. Over the last six or seven years, both personally and through my private organization, and the work I do with companies like VMware, NL Switch I had a greater emphasis on finding the right model for ownership and sustainability around Data Centers and IT as a whole. Certainly, as Katie already pointed out, it’s becoming more and more important to us and our customers, almost every day, to deliver a product and service that is less impactful on the environment, and therefore more sustainable and more efficient.

Katie Fehrenbacher 05:43

So the obvious question is why? What is driving this transformation? Is it companies like Greenpeace pushing and harassing people? Is it economics? Is it Green PR? What really is it that are leading the decisions around making these changes, both about energy efficiency and also clean power?

Niall McEntegart 06:07

I think it’s a combination of both. We all live in this world, we all need to be responsible about how we operate us, but a large part of driver for this is economic as well. From our own standpoint, Facebook is a free service. We operate at a pretty large scale, 1.1 billion users. We crunch about 10 petabytes of data a day, which is about 4.75 billion pieces of information shared every day on the site. It all means that we need quite a large infrastructure to back that up and support us. In order to do that effectively, and efficiently, and cost effectively we need to have some very efficient hardware. It needs to be built very cost effectively and operated as well that way. That’s one of our main drivers for this. Initiatives like Open Compute, where we’ve taken the Data Center, stripped it down, restart from scratch two years ago, designed a Data Center, the power infrastructure in there, server storage, and as Frank’s mentioned, restarting towards the Switch as well. That all combines to allow us to operate at a much more efficient, cost effective manner. In Lulea, we’re using 100% hydroelectric power to power our Data center. And part of the decision for being Lulea as well, it was the climate. It means that we could use 100% free cooling, outside cooling. It all keeps cost down and it means we’re very, very efficient. So there’s a number of different reasons to do it, they all combine into one whole.

Katie Fehrenbacher 07:58

Is there one leading factor that you would think of Mark?

Mark Thiele 08:02

I’m not sure that there is one leading factor that comes up more often than others, but if I had to pick one, I would say it’s a company’s ability to have a positive impact and a positive representation on their company’s corporate sustainability report. I think historically there’s been a lot of green washing in the reports, and it’s not so much that they weren’t doing it but they were doing it because they felt they had to, as opposed to doing it because they felt it was the right thing to do. One of the changes that’s taking place, or a couple other changes that are taking place, at the low end and the high end. At the low end, it’s things like your own daughter or your own son that comes up to you and says, Dad, why are you doing that? Why aren’t you more green? Or what is it that your company’s doing that’s more green? Because it’s such a prevalent topic in the classroom these days. I realize that sounds very simplistic, but it is a real impact. And the other part is that I think that over the last two or three years, there’s been a much better appreciation and acceptance for the fact that being green doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend money that you otherwise wouldn’t have spent, or that you would have otherwise spent on making more money; that in fact, being green, thinking sustainable can actually have positive operational benefits for your business beyond just using a little bit less power. So does it force you to think outside the box? Absolutely it does. Beyond what companies like Facebook are doing, we work with the local government in Nevada very closely to find alternatives to help with bills that get rid of the– in fact, we’ve managed to have that done, get rid of the coal-fired power plants that were in Nevada. So there’s literally no more dirty energy, except for if you would consider a natural gas still a fossil fuel, but it’s got half the impact of other natural or fossil fuels. It’s activities like that or companies that are even looking to build their own energy supply, like what EBay’s trying to do in Utah, et cetera, are really forcing the issue and making people realize that we’ve got to rethink how we incent power creation and provide access to it, so that people can take advantage of it and leverage it. So again, it’s really the thinking outside the box and accepting that doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily have to be painful.

Katie Fehrenbacher 10:27

Do you think there’s an economic or financial savings aspect involved with adding in more clean power to data Centers? Is it all a do-gooder PR angle, or is there some type of technology that people are readily adopting that would provide an economic benefit, in term of clean power not energy efficiency?

Mark Thiele 10:48

Well I think the answer is potentially. When you can pick a site selection the way Facebook can, for instance. Facebook has a global customer base and Niall can talk about that a lot better than I can. The customer base that we serve though is very latency dependent for the most part. So they put their stuff where they believe it can support their business. And at the maximum range of that is the maximum they’re willing to do to satisfy any other needs. Then they start looking at, Why can we do relative to power, and efficiency, et cetera? But I would say that there are ways to bring the cost down around delivery of alternative energy. In many cases it’s a long-term benefit, as opposed to a near-term. But it’s also rethinking how you’ve built your energy delivery, how and where you apply your redundancy so that it’s not a pure add-on, and that you’re not just duplicating what’s already available to you, which is the big risk. If you think about some of the most well-known alternative energy sources, wind and solar, we still don’t have good batteries for instance. We don’t have good storage. And most of the power on those functions are created during the time of the day when the rest of the world needs it the most as well. And then it’s not there when it’s stormy, or it’s not there when there’s no wind, and it’s not there in the middle of the night. And as Facebook can tell you, or anybody else with a major data Center, the Data Center continues to operate 24/7, and depending on who your customers are, it could be just as busy at two in the morning as it is at four in the afternoon. By virtue of that fact alone, it can be more expensive to apply a renewable or a clean energy source like wind if you don’t do it right, because it’s actually additive to the rest of the environment, it’s not a replacement.

Niall McEntegart 12:50

So can you imagine their own terms and long-term strategy. Obviously a Data Center is a major investment for any company. So when you spend that kind of money, you need to take a pretty long-term view. For example, what we’ve done in Lulea in Northern Sweden, it allows us to take a long-term bet on a region that is an ad exporter of hydroelectric power. So it’s a stable producer of hydroelectric power, it will be for the long-term foreseeable future. As we’re in the energy sector, regardless of what happens with oil prices or gas, we’re in Lulea for the long-term and we’re going to be able to use a sustainable source of power. So we’re not exposed to the same sort of market variations as locating somewhere else that is particularly exposed to, for example, an oil supply, or gas supply.

Katie Fehrenbacher 13:54

There’s this whole introduction that Cloud computing, as a whole, is more energy efficient in certain aspects. It’s complicated, but the idea of moving to the Cloud can be a more efficient choice in general. Particularly, that’s for mega scale. We were talking backstage a little bit about what are some best practices that some of the companies can adopt, or look to, or some of the technology that maybe when you’re operating these types of businesses, not at the mega scale level.

Mark Thiele 14:37

Not at the mega scale level. I think Cloud and virtualization is a big part. Anything that improves efficiency overall in this industry and computing is a good thing. I think there’s a number of different elements to it though, there’s a lot more than what’s happening on the servers, there’s also how you build and operate your server, how efficient your equipment actually is. Also, from an operational standpoint, how do you manage your infrastructure on an ongoing basis? And the cost associated with that also? So even at mega scale, you will have benefits flowing down the stream to people who are using 10 servers in Iraq, with initials like OCP, will benefit anyone. All those benefits as new technologies and improvements will always flow downstream. But there’s also stuff like operational cost, where if you look at automating what happens in the Data Center. So for example, we’ve automated a lot of our brick fix work, to the point where for about 40% of our tickets, a human doesn’t actually touch it. It’s fixed automatically by the system. When you combine that with, as Frank mentioned earlier on, the reliability rates on the newer generations of OCP compared to more traditional hardware, you take out 40% and you ask for 60%, plus you divide that by an order of magnitude in terms of how reliable the equipment actually is, you suddenly bring the amount of problem you have in a Data Center down to a very small scale. That’s beneficial to anybody, regardless of what scale you’re at. The more you can reduce your problem set, the better off you are, the more money you’ve saved in terms of having to maintain that equipment. So that can be a benefit for anybody. We open sourced, as Frank has mentioned, a lot of what we do in terms with the OCP hardware, but also on the software side. If you look at us for what we’ve done around hip-hop for PHP, and the hip-hop virtual machine as well. It has also increased our deficiency of our code by over 500%. And again, they’re open sourced tools that anyone can use in terms of using the PHP component before they publish the code. So they’re all tools that are available to people and that can be of any scale, it doesn’t matter. People can use initiatives that are built at scale, but are available to a wider audience to improve their operations of any scale.

Niall McEntegart 17:38

I would say that, as Niall’s already, automation is a key opportunity space. Whether it’s in the Data center as a whole, or within your equipment, automation is important for a lot of things. Not only does it help to reduce the overhead associated with managing the environment, which by it’s very nature reduces your energy use, et cetera, your impacts, but it also helps to ensure that you’re using what you have more effectively. There’s also another way to look at it, and that’s that while using a Cloud or a highly virtualized environment, in theory is always more efficient than using individual servers to run jobs the way we would in a Legacy environment. You have to look at it both from the energy efficiency perspective, and the quality of supply of energy as well. For instance, if you’re using fully renewable energy like Facebook is in the North, then your impact on the environment is much less. It comes down to a cost factor at that point. But for most organizations, if they’re using coal-fired power to run their Data Center or their equipment, or they put their applications into a Data Center that has Cloud that’s supplied with coal-fired power, then the efficiency is almost immaterial at that point, because the impact could be worse than where it was before. It’s not as simple, obviously, as just being efficient, but there’s no guarantee that moving application sets into the Cloud will make you more efficient but the opportunity is certainly there. But it does come down to things like automation, and your understanding of where and how you’re using workloads, and that you’ve defined your workloads appropriately to use the hardware effectively because the reality is, just like VM Sprawl in the initial days of virtualization and even today, Cloud is no different. When you make a resource more easily adapted and used, you’re more likely to use more of it. Well that may, in and of itself, bring a benefit to the business, often times it’s just extra stuff that’s not being used. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just opening up a can of efficiency.

Katie Fehrenbacher 19:52

I think we have time for maybe one question, if anyone has any burning questions. No, nothing? I have a question, I think it’s really interesting that the internet industry, Data Center operators, but particularly the big internet leaders: Apple, Facebook, Google, they seem to have a different perspective on sustainability and clean power that a lot of other verticals don’t have, so they’re trying to be some of the leading companies. I was wondering what you thought about that. Do you think it’s tied to the fact that Apple and Facebook are consumer facing brands? Or do you think it’s an economic issue? Do you have an opinion on that?

Mark Thiele 20:44

There was a recent server, ISDC I think, in the US and it surveyed 500 Data Center managers of companies that had over 500 people, and one billion revenue, and it asked them what their average PB was. And it came back at 2.9, which was extremely surprising to be honest, to me. So I think as companies grow, those things aren’t as important at the start, but as you grow in scale they start to become more important over time. That’s why, a companies get larger and start to operate at a larger scale, these things naturally become more important to them as an operating cost. I think Cloud virtualization in general will help more of those companies make that move because if you start to use Cloud, for example, the infrastructure that it’s running on, on the back end, is always going to be more effective and efficient than doing it by yourself because you have economies at scale. You just naturally gain that advantage. It depends, as you move through the life cycle of a company, it can change.

Katie Fehrenbacher 22:00

So you think it’s mainly scale.

Mark Thiele 22:03

Yeah, scale has a little bit to do with it.

Katie Fehrenbacher 22:06

Scale and brand?

Niall McEntegart 22:07

I think it’s a combination of what Niall just said. But I also think it’s simply that the perception from folks that are worried about whether it’s Greenpeace or organizations similarly, the perception is that the work that Yahoo, Google, or Facebook do on a daily basis, isn’t work that keeps airplanes in the air, or keeps your car running, or keeps food on your table. And by attacking any one of them, they get noticed by a billion people.

Katie Fehrenbacher 22:36

So they’re easy targets.

Niall McEntegart 22:37

And it’s not necessarily a negative thing, but that’s just the reality. But what we don’t recognize on the other side of the coin, you mentioned manufacturing. Manufacturing gets targeted just as much, but they get targeted in a different way. They get targeted by their supply chains, and materials, et cetera. Their compute load is inconsequential for the average manufacturing company, as compared to a high tech company, a finance company, or a company like Facebook.

Katie Fehrenbacher 23:00

That’s all the time we have, but if you guys want to talk to these guys after and learn more about what they’re doing in their Data Centers with energy efficiency and clean power, please find the afterward.