I’ve been thinking lately about the environment and the technology industry – specifically about the impact we have on trees and the air we breathe. Just because our servers, networks and websites aren’t visibly belching out smoke (geeze, I hope not), it doesn’t mean that we’re not leaving a carbon footprint in our midst.
How big of an impact, you might ask?
How’s this for you? If a data center adds 2 MegaWatts to their facility, IT folks are happy because their capacity grows. But adding 2 MegaWatts pumps a potential 714 additional tons of carbon into the air every month – from the power plants that run everything. Wow!
There’s an awful lot of interest in green computing lately, but does that mean everybody in the data center industry is implementing green computing best practices? NOT.
I recently read a story where the author visited six commercial data centers in a month’s time, and he found major green computing best practices violations, including:
Large spacing within cabinets forcing hot air recirculation (not using blanking panels, as well as loose PCs and tower servers placed ad-hoc within a cabinet shelf)
Failure to use Hot/Cold aisle separation
High density cabinets using open four-post racks
Spacing in high density server areas between cabinets
Failure to use any level of hot or cold air containment in high density data center spaces, including those with raised floors and drop-ceilings which would support hot air plenums.
But there’s hope. The Uptime Institute‘s metric, Power Utilization Efficiency (PUE), measures the effectiveness of power usage in a data center. PUE represents the total facility power consumption divided by the amount of power actually consumed by either internal IT equipment. A factor of 2.0 means that, for every watt consumed by IT equipment, another watt is required for air conditioning, lighting, and other support equipment.
Most data centers today consider a target value of 1.5 good, and some companies, such as giant Google, are trying to drive their PUE below 1.2.
But there are plenty of other data centers that aren’t anywhere near the point of collecting valid PUE data. If we use a simple PUE example and carbon calculation, we can determine the effect of poor data center green computing practices.
Take for example a 4 MegaWatt center. Translated into PUE language, the data center has a PUE of 3.0, meaning, of the power it consumes, 3 MegaWatts are eaten up by A/C – but only 1MegaWatt of actual IT equipment.
What does that mean for the environment? In California, using the carbon calculator, this would return 357 tons of carbon produced by the IT equipment and 1,071 tons of carbon produced by support equipment, says the article.
The shame of all this is that this waste could be controlled through better design, management, and operations in our data centers. In the story, the author says that most commercial data centers are in the 4~10MW range.
What can we do? Green computing can be as simple as changing lighting to low-power LEDs that shut off when people leave the data center room, to reducing the actual draw each server consumes by up to 40% — by removing hot air recirculation and keeping the supply side cool. That would enable you to add servers (if you’re not yet ready to switch to the cloud) and increase your processing capacity but reduce your electricity needs.
After having read all this, my thought was that we need to get more serious about green computing. And I’m more convinced than ever that cloud computing and virtualization will help companies be more IT efficient and thus, reduce pollution.