When it comes to energy conservation, sustainability and saving the planet, a lot of people are getting on the bandwagon, even Pope Francis. But when it comes to enterprise data centers, not so much.
A recent survey by IDC of data center power and cooling trends in the enterprise shows that, unlike their big brothers in the Web-scale world, most traditional enterprises are not running at the most efficient levels and that is costing them countless dollars while continuing to put strains on the power grid and the environment.
The survey of 404 enterprise data center managers (data centers with a minimum of 1,000 square feet and 100 servers) showed power and cooling costs, along with IT infrastructure itself, make up the largest share of data center budgets, both at 24 percent. With a mean budget of $1.2 million, that puts power and cooling costs at about $300,000 annually on average.
More significantly, the survey showed that most of those data centers are not running at peak efficiency. The typical measure of this is PUE, or power usage effectiveness, which is a ratio of power coming into the data center to how it’s being distributed across the IT workload, according to IDC Research Manager Kelly Quinn, who presented the data in a recent webcast.
A PUE of 1.0 is considered very efficient, while anything between 2.0 and 3.0 is considered very inefficient. “When you get to PUE ratios at 2 and above, you are looking at a massive amount of power going not just to the IT side of the house but also to the facilities side,” she said.
Cloud giants like Google and Facebook publish their PUE numbers. Google’s most recent released number is 1.12 for the trailing 12 months. Facebook does not have any recent numbers, but has published that its Prineville, Ore., data center runs at 1.07. The U.S. government’s guidelines are for 1.5.
By contrast, IDC’s report shows that more than two-thirds of the enterprises it surveyed logged a PUE of more than 2.0, and 10 percent were over 3.0 or didn’t know. The data showed that data center managers are indeed measuring their PUE, but not really doing anything about it.
What is to be done? There are two options. The first is to consolidate data centers and buy more efficient equipment, reducing the overall pieces of hardware that draw power and create heat. This is expensive and must be a planned capital expense. Many enterprises have made this leap, but many more have not.
The second option is more efficient data center designs and cooling strategies. Data center design is not a new concept. I recall spending a day at American Power Conversion in Rhode Island about 10 years ago and seeing demonstrations of the latest data center designs, such as hot aisle/cold aisle layouts, but today only 30 percent of data centers use that method, according to the survey.
Enterprises Still Failing to Cut Data Center Power, Cooling Costs
Many data centers are also being kept needlessly cool. About 75 percent of enterprises are keeping their data centers below 75 degrees F, when guidelines set by ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) call for a recommended maximum of 80.6 degrees and allowable maximum of 95 degrees.
This isn’t just a data center manager problem. CIOs, CFOs and CEOs need to have serious conversations about what do. The easy steps are managing cooling more effectively in order to lower the cost. A better but more expensive method is data center transformation by consolidating data centers, going to a converged data center or adding cloud services where possible.
I’m not letting the cloud-scale providers off the hook completely. Amazon, Facebook, Google, eBay, etc., all use enormous amounts of energy. But economies of scale alone make their usage more efficient. And for the most part, they are employing the latest methods to keep power usage to a minimum while seeking renewable sources and, if possible, carbon neutrality.
eBay has done a lot in this area, even going so far as successfully lobbying the Utah state legislature to change its policies as a coal-first state so it could deploy renewable sources at its new data center in Salt Lake City.
Amazon is the exception. Despite the recent announcement of a solar farm in Virginia, which will generate 170,000 megawatts when it is scheduled to open in October of next year, Amazon is a holdout in disclosing its energy usage and sustainability policies.
The company has been the target of Greenpeace lobbying efforts and also has been targeted by its own customers, who demanded that Amazon adopt a more transparent stance. Shareholders also submitted a resolution at the Amazon annual meeting earlier this month, asking that “Amazon.com issue a sustainability report describing the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance and goals, including greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals,” but it received only 26.2 percent of the vote.
So, it’s not enough for companies to get with the program. Investors need to as well. In the long term, doing whatever can be done to reduce fossil fuel usage, power consumption and reducing costs in the data center is the right, and smart, thing to do.
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise, While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.