The Stack Archive

Data centres are key to driving smart cities and national energy savings, says Green Grid Vice President Roger Tipley

Fri 12 Dec 2014

rogertipley[1]The Stack speaks with Roger Tipley, Engineering Strategist at Hewlett-Packard and Vice President of The Green Grid, about improving efficiency across the data centre and complete IT estate. He explains that in the future data centres will be key to driving the success of smart cities and national sustainability efforts.

You have recently stepped into the position of President of The Green Grid, what direction do you hope to see the consortium follow over the next few years?

With an excited and rejuvenated board and set of officers we want to continue our past trajectory over the next few years, but expand from our original focus. Originally our work was solely about energy efficiency in data centres – now we want to make sure that we are the global experts on effective and accountable IT resource efficiency. This needs to be from both an ecological and economic ROI perspective. In fact, we like to use a sustainability model outlined by the United Nations which comprises of multiple overlapping factors, including social responsibility, ecologic responsibility, and economic performance.

We want to be the ones that governments call when they want feedback from an industry perspective. We want to ‘speak truth to power,’ and hope to speak that truth from an expertise level as opposed to opinion.

How have you seen priorities change in recent years with regard to efficiency? What projects is The Green Grid undertaking to respond to these?

When we first started there was a major focus on energy costs rising, but for a few years thereafter we started to see prices drop in some parts of the world. That’s why we focused less on energy prices and more on the impact of energy waste and carbon footprint.

The European Commission has launched the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) for which it is currently running pilot tests. A few of our members are leading efforts in that project, looking at how we define environmental footprints for a wide range of products.

We also have an active project in Singapore that is looking at elevated temperatures in data centre operations. This research has been propelled by the specific energy needs of such a small country with no energy capacity of its own. The team are looking at ways to decrease overall energy use of data centres over time, and to expand productivity.

We are also currently working on the Data Centre Maturity Model, which was developed at Thomson Reuters in London a few years ago. To start with we are looking to refresh it and we’re excited that we have our first major enhancement coming out very soon – a paper written by Christophe Garnier. His group is looking at the complete lifecycle of components in a data centre –the sustainability of sourcing and operations to end-of-life.

You are also developing a PUE certification scheme in China, what are the individual demands and challenges to adopting green strategies in Asia in particular?

China is looking to the Green Grid for our expertise and advice on how they can utilise our metrics as a way to deploy government programmes around energy efficiency.

PUE is a very effective way of showing how energy efficient your data centre is. China is trying to decrease its carbon footprint and its pollution situation, especially in Beijing. Trying to drive down the amount of pollution in the atmosphere, much like energy, can almost be directly correlated to carbon footprint. They use a lot of coal and generate lots in China, and clearly the less you use the better.

China is trying to grow its economy, and its capacity for data centres, and it seems to be encouraging that growth in a very unique way. With both our PUE and Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE), which takes PUE and adds a multiplier based on carbon footprint, we hope Chinese organisations can ensure a clean growth plan.

Many argue that achieving a PUE rating of 1.0 is impossible, what are your thoughts on this?

A perfect 1.0 would probably violate the second law of thermodynamics! That said you can definitely approach it. When we first started with PUE, we thought it would be impossible to get below 1.5. We used to think of data centres as being very redundant, but as we start constructing and designing data centres which move towards a Google-style or web-centric model, these facilities have almost no redundancy and they’re taking a lot of cost off their infrastructure, so I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to get extremely close to 1.0.

Although we are seeing improvements to PUE ratings, it is argued that these do not effectively represent improvements in overall efficiency – how can we go about measuring and monitoring total usage?

PUE is one of many things we would like data centres to focus on. It’s an easy thing to master and it tends to drive positive results. But as you approach PUE ratings of 1.0 you really have to look at the return on investment and if it really make sense to get closer to 1.0. Data centres have to make sure they are debating reliability and availability. Typical data centres that cater for enterprise have to maintain a high level of reliability so that they can provide immediate access to data critical to those businesses. In addition to PUE, data centres need to be looking at other factors including total power consumption, and productivity.

Over our entire eight year span, we have been attempting to come up with one metric that really works for everybody, but I think we’ve discovered that that just does not exist.

A case study with Ebay has shown great best practice for tracking complete usage. It has a dashboard which shows all of its productivity metrics, including website URL hits from people browsing and looking at the auctions and what’s for sale, as well as actual buying. Those are simple things that they can log and track alongside economic feedback, and energy footprint. It’s a very direct analysis – what you get for what you spent, in terms of both currency and carbon. I think every company should have their own similar metrics for productivity.

Some would argue that cutting the energy used by an individual data centre isn’t going to affect the overall energy used by data centres, when the number of data centres is growing so rapidly. Do you agree?

I would disagree. Data centres are actually driving smarter cities and leading the push for more energy efficient cities and buildings. The European Commission is actively driving smart cities, as is the U.S. government, and even China with its eco-city projects. The ‘smart’ in smart cities is the data centre. When a city can run more efficiently, the overall energy impact to the country decreases. We need to find more evidence, but we could make the argument that data centres should grow and by growing they will decrease the overall energy use of a country.

The U.S. government and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has tracked total energy use of the U.S. over decades, and in the last five years there’s been some dramatic changes. The total energy use of the country has flattened, and in some cases has gone down even though we’re seeing growth in data centres. First I think the flattening has been induced by the global economic downturn, but it remains a trend even now. I would argue that one of the other reasons is that we’ve found ways to offset the total energy use of a country by finding more efficient processes, whether this is through smart cities or data centres.

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