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Green Bedfellows

The need for energy-efficient data centers crosses corporate boundaries

The need for energy-efficient data centers crosses corporate boundaries

The need for businesses to adopt environmentally sustainable practices is creating unexpected partnerships. Accounting and IT; CEOs and warehouse workers; publicists and directors can all agree on greening up. Even IT-industry competitors IBM, Microsoft, Dell and HP, among others, have made saving energy their common cause. All of these tech giants are members of an international consortium for green datacenters, Green Grid, which celebrated its first anniversary last month.

Tom Bradicich, IBM fellow and vice president, systems technology/rack/blade/x86 servers, represents IBM on Green Grid’s board of directors. He says IBM brings a legacy of energy-efficiency to the nonprofit organization: “When I was in kindergarten, our forefathers were solving energy econ and thermal problems with computers in data centers.”

Conversely, IBM reaps benefits by participating in Green Grid. It’s one way the company stays connected to its user community, especially the broad segment that’s interested in sustainability. Bradicich says it also reflects IBM’s priority of collaboration. “We collaborate with not only our customers and clients but also with others in the industry,” he says.

Of course, it would be naive to say that the world’s biggest tech companies would get into a room and share trade secrets, but there’s progress to be made. Until now, the IT industry hadn’t settled on a standard way to measure data-center efficiency, much less best practices to avoid waste.

“If you don’t have measurements, obviously you can’t determine whether you’re doing better or worse, or what’s good or what’s bad,” Bradicich says. So in its first year of operation, the consortium established two metrics: power usage effectiveness (PUE) and data-center infrastructure efficiency (DCiE), both based on the same data-center characteristics.

The October whitepaper “The Green Grid Datacenter Power Efficiency Metrics: PUE and DCiE,” defined the metrics. PUE is a ratio of total facility power to IT equipment power. DCiE is the same ratio reversed—IT equipment power to total facility power—and expressed as a percentage.

Here are some basics to help you understand the measurements: IT equipment power includes the load associated with compute, storage and network equipment, plus supplemental monitoring or control equipment. Total facility power is the amount of power, measured at the utility meter, that’s dedicated to the datacenter, including power-delivery components (such as UPSes), cooling equipment and lighting. It’s important to exclude power going to adjacent facilities, such as office space, from this number.

The whitepaper offers the example of a data center whose PUE is 3.0. This means that of every three watts the datacenter consumes, one goes toward crunching data. The same environment would have a DCiE of 33 percent. A PUE of 1.0 and a DCiE of 100 percent would signify perfect energy efficiency.

Don’t let the simple arithmetic fool you: “The profundity of those metrics lies not in their complexity, in fact they’re rather simple, but lies in the fact that it is standardized,” Bradicich says. “Miles per gallon is very simple. But its impact or its profundity is in the fact that everybody measures on that and you have it in every car, no matter who manufactures it.” For details on how to calculate your datacenter’s efficiency, find the whitepaper on the Green Grid Web site.

Besides the PUE and DCiE measurements, the Green Grid also defines and promotes best practices, for example in data-center power configurations.

Even as Green Grid members ratify these standards, they take action in the green movement. “When IBM, the largest provider of servers in the industry, agrees (to a standard), that’s a major part of the industry. When HP agrees, that’s another big part of the industry. So by getting agreement among those players, I think that’s a major accomplishment.”

The consortium supports its standards being used to inform legislation, where appropriate. Bradicich says wide adoption of the standards would serve IBM and other Green Grid members threefold. First, the companies involved in the consortium are some of the world’s largest users of data centers, and therefore would reap the most benefits from a technological tightening of the energy belt. Second, advances in energy efficiency make data-center products—many of which are made by Green Grid members—more attractive. And third, Bradicich says, “It is good for the environment and it is good citizenship to do this.”

Morgon Mae Schultz is a copy editor for MSP TechMedia



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