Not enough green, too much apathy in data centre industry
By Benjamin Cher September 16, 2015
- Companies merely paying lip service to green initiatives
- It’s like living in the dinosaur era, says consultant
IT would come as no surprise that the data centre industry is not exactly the most environmentally-friendly, with data centres drawing on enormous amounts of power, then needing to shed heat with tremendous amounts of coolants.
Globally, datacentres account for 2% of energy consumption – in Singapore, it’s even worse, with the industry sucking up 7% of the island’s energy.
Ashrae, the global society of heating and cooling engineers, recently released a proposed energy standard for data centres in a push for greater energy efficiency.
Singapore’s data centres have a history of being energy-inefficient, but things look set to change with the Government stepping in with guidelines and policies for making data centres ‘greener.’
But more can be done, according to Bob Sharon, chief executive officer of Green Global Solutions, an Australian-based data centre consultancy.
“The Singapore Government is trying to push the right way,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of Singapore Data Centre Week 2015, citing as an example the Singapore Exchange’s (SGX) sustainability reporting initiative, plus rebates from the National Environment Agency and other government bodies.
“The Government is doing a lot of good things, Singapore is certainly ahead – but there is a lot more to be done,” he added.
Industry waits for no tree
The pushback, though, comes from the industry itself, according to Sharon, with facility managers playing the apathetic gatekeeper.
“It’s like you’re in the 1800s trying to talk to facility managers [about going green],” he declared.
Such facility managers, and by extension their companies, are just paying lip service to green initiatives, rather than seriously considering them, Sharon argued.
“A lot of companies pay lip service – enough lip service to sink a few Titanics,” he said.
Their energies are focused on fire-fighting rather than on being forward thinking – they are looking after their buildings, rather than being proactive in fixing problems.
“A lot of facility managers are about keeping the building operating – if I go and fix the building, they don’t get the savings, the company does or the tenants do, and this is a problem,” Sharon said.
“I can’t imagine that we would be living in the dinosaur era, but we are, with people having this kind of thinking,” he added.
However, a few bad apples do not spoil the whole bunch, and Sharon pointed out that some organisations are aware and are actively looking to make their operations more ‘green.’
Nature finds a way
As this environmental battle plays out between operators and governments, Sharon (pic above) reckons the road ahead is tinted green.
“In the end, those who pay lip service will find it harder to compete, and it’s going to happen over a period of time,” he said.
This will happen as the cost of electricity gets higher; as CSR (corporate social responsibility) reporting and marketing ramps up; and as the younger generation – who are very strong on environmental sustainability – mature.
“But it’s an uphill battle and I bang my head against the wall sometimes,” Sharon said.
To walk the talk, Sharon is looking to reduce the carbon footprint and increase the environmental sustainability for a new data centre he is designing.
“We’re designing a datacentre in Melbourne that uses a new technology that will have a PUE of 1.1,” Sharon said.
“There are innovative things we can do to further enhance the energy and carbon footprint,” he added.
PUE or power usage effectiveness is a measure of how efficiently a data centre uses its energy. The formula is derived from total facility energy divided by IT equipment energy, and the ideal score is 1.0.
Sharon is also looking beyond his home ground of Australia and intends to build a 100% renewable energy data centre in Singapore.
This data centre will rely on biogas and solar energy for power, and he said he has assembled a coalition for it.
When pressed for more details, Sharon declined to disclose more information beyond saying that there are some “big players” in the coalition.
As data centres push for energy efficiency, Sharon sees this as an avenue for green initiatives to be pushed through.
“There are some [datacentre operators] trying to do it on the cheap, making as much bottom-line profit as they can, and they are unwilling to pay for additional capital work – while others can’t even be bothered as it would be too much work,” he said.
“But there are many ways to skin a cat, from charging the difference in savings to pay for the work, or sharing part of the discount with customers while utilising the other part to pay for the work,” he added.
Ultimately, Sharon believes that government intervention might be the key to pushing the green initiative through to data centre operators.
“If we can somehow force government regulations to standardise and enforce a true PUE rating for data centres that has to be assessed by an independent firm – as giving the keys to the blood bank to Dracula is not a good idea – then you get a true PUE rating,” he said.
“A lot of operators tell half-truths about their PUE and hide how they measure it.
“It needs to be measured over 12 months and independently validated, and if by law it is shown on a website, then they’ll be named and shamed into going green,” he added.
Sharon will discuss these issues and more at Data Centre Week 2015, being held in Singapore from Sept 14-17. DNA is an official media partner.
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