Why corporate responsibility needs to extend to the data centre
Fri 4 Nov 2016
Companies around the world are increasingly placing digitalisation at the heart of their business models, and while this growing demand requires phenomenal amounts of data and energy consumption, there is little concern for its impact on the environment, argues Roel Castelein of non-profit group The Green Grid.
Citing research from the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, he notes that data traffic between 2001 and 2016 has multiplied by over 1,300 times. “Nothing in history has grown that fast,” says Castelein, “and it will only continue with the emergence of automation, Big Data, analytics, and companies looking to ‘Spotify’ their business models.”
Although digitalisation is an important focus for companies, there needs to be greater awareness around the environmental impact of digital strategies. “Everybody knows that there’s a lot of data, but companies need to be conscious of what this means in terms of energy consumption. Otherwise, by 2025, it just won’t be sustainable anymore.”
For those seeking advice, Castelein points to The Green Grid as an important industry platform for connecting with like-minded people from a broad spectrum of vendors, end-user companies, and academic institutions. The forum encourages organisations to come together to share ideas and develop technical solutions for improving efficiency.
Intelligence could help in understanding which servers consume the most energy, and where the most failures are happening
One of the group’s biggest achievements is establishing agreements on standardisation and metrics. “The difficulty in our sector is getting everyone to agree. Countries have different metric systems and different ideas of what good metrics should be.” Referring to the Power usage efficiency (PUE), Castelein admits that the metric is not perfect, but that it is an important step in introducing an industry-wide agreement on efficiency.
Beyond PUE, The Green Grid has a number of useful tools available to companies looking to improve sustainability, including the online data centre maturity model tool for benchmarking a data centre.
Bringing BI inside the data centre
A further area for improving data centre efficiency lies in developing new software and analytics models, or DCMM tools, to identify areas which require investment. One Green Grid initiative involves a data centre automation programme, which is looking to bring Business Intelligence inside the data centre to pull transactional data and use analytical models to help assess the information. This intelligence could help in understanding which servers consume the most energy, and where the most failures are happening, for example.
“Companies tend not to conduct any BI in the data centre. There’s so many moving parts in a data centre that it’s very difficult to capture all of that data and put it into an analytical model. But even with very simple reporting, you can carry out quite complex statistical analysis to work out how to improve your data centre.”
BI is a well-established field but is yet to be fully applied in the data centre, according to Castelein. “If you have large data centre operations globally, you should be pulling all of the transactional data and creating predictive models on where you will get your failures, where you will see spikes etc. This isn’t future thinking – it’s feasible today.”
Large data centre businesses should start placing facilities and developer teams together to help identify any low-hanging fruit in corporate sustainability strategies
Google is a great example of how implementing effective BI and data analytics systems can help to improve PUE. Using statistical models, the tech giant has been able to boost its PUE when human engineers are no longer able to detect additional areas for improvement.
The Corporate Social Responsibility community also needs to catch up and focus on IT footprints. “Universities, governments, hospitals, telcos and banks are all huge data centre users. They have CSR officers, but hardly any of them look at IT infrastructure.”
Castelein suggests that large businesses should start placing facilities and developer teams together to help identify any low-hanging fruit in corporate sustainability strategies. Data centre software needs to catch up with mobile in terms of minimising footprint: “Mobile developers have to take into account limited resources, such as battery life, when they code an app. However, when it comes to servers and mainframes, there is not the same accountability.”