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Alec Selvon Bruce, Eco Solutions Champion for Hitachi Data Systems UK: Green data centres are an oxymoron. Eco-friendly data centres aren’t

October 2009 by Alec Selvon Bruce, Eco Solutions Champion for Hitachi Data Systems UK

Recently, two of America’s largest online businesses relocated their data centres close to a hydroelectric dam to reduce power consumption and save money. After employees, its largest operating cost was electricity. In the UK, the average cost of running a data centre is approximately £5.3 million a year. This is predicted to double to £11m within the next five years . One of the main reasons is the spiralling cost of power.

For larger organisations with a multi-data centre estate this will further complicate the complex matter of site selection. While primary data centre selection is driven by proximity to customer market, secondary and disaster recovery sites may be located near to alternative energy sources such as bio-mass power plants and hydroelectric power stations, dramatically reducing energy consumption.

As well as cost, availability of power is an issue. Gartner has highlighted that IT managers are running out of the power to run their data centres. Reflecting this, new data centres and expansion of existing facilities in London has been blocked because the required power is not immediately available. Moreover, former mayor Ken Livingstone, stipulated that London-based companies ensure 20 per cent of energy comes from renewable sources. This is understandable. The UK government estimates that the IT industry accounts for 4 per cent of UK CO2 emissions. In the next two years, this is set to grow by a staggering 180 per cent.

Company CIOs can set the agenda in overcoming these challenges by providing quotas for energy-efficiency or carbon limits. This combined with investor-driven carbon reduction targets, can be extremely powerful in creating a climate for the development of eco-friendly data centres.

The drive towards eco-friendly data centres is already underway. In fact, it’s fair to say that all new data centre builds, whether in China, France, Holland or anywhere else are now being built to standards such as Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design (LEED) and the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), incorporating a wide range of energy-efficient technologies. For example, Hitachi data centres in Yokoyama have incorporated simple roof gardens that reflect the sun’s heat, lowering the internal heat by several degrees. This in turn substantially reduces the amount of power required to cool the data centre internally.

Organisations unable to innovate in new building in this way and those not yet ready to build new data centres, can benefit from technologies and processes that reduce power consumption and turbine units that create refrigerated air for cooling the data centre by drawing on free external air. The way IT itself is managed also has a huge impact on the amount of data centre space a company needs. Companies need technologies which maximise the utilisation and efficiency of computing power and storage such as virtualisation. They also need processes – like data deduplication - which ensure that data is managed optimally and that companies are not using energy and resources managing and storing multiple copies of the same data.

In the end, while data centres can’t be green in the true sense of the word because they draw enormous amounts of power, there are business demands and government regulations that require that they adopt an eco-friendly design. That is, far more energy-efficient than they are today. And to achieve this requires just a little forward-thinking and investment that, in the face of spiralling energy costs, will deliver a relatively quick return on investment.

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