The green datacentre -- an oxymoron?

Summary:news analysis The datacentre is the first and most obvious place the IT industry has looked at in addressing its overzealous consumption of power. But is the industry's hungriest power user capable of "going green"?

news analysis The datacentre is the first and most obvious place the IT industry has looked at in addressing its overzealous consumption of power. But is the industry's hungriest power user capable of "going green"?

The datacentre is the first and most obvious place the IT industry has looked at in addressing its overzealous consumption of power.

"A datacentre is the single biggest computing draw you can make," said Brad Engstrom, business development manager for Cisco Australia. "Look at Google -- they choose where to put their datacentre based on the availability of power".

With many organisations opting to use virtualisation to maximise their use of server capacity, power consumption in individual racks are climbing as high as 20, 24 and 40 kilowatts per rack.

Mark Deguara, national product manager for cooling vendor Emerson Network Power, points out that at 24 kilowatts, such a rack configuration uses the same energy as 600 standard 40 watt light globes, 12 toasters or 10 electric ovens.

"We're [working on] a datacentre at the moment that's 20 kilowatts per rack, and we're talking to a client looking at 30 kilowatts per rack, and another [client is building a room] which is 50 kilowatts per rack."

A "green" datacentre?
At the same time that power consumption is increasing in the datacentre, several hardware vendors are using the "greening" of IT as a means of differentiating themselves from competitors.

However, with datacentres chewing through enormous amounts of power, is it somewhat of an oxymoron to consider any datacentre "green"?

"No," said David Scott, managing director of cooling specialists Emerson Network Power. "It's not an oxymoron because there are clear things all of us can do and we are doing to maximise energy efficiency. The IT hardware suppliers are continually supplying new equipment that requires less energy and therefore improving energy efficiency."

Barrie Williams, regional director of Intel Solution Services, said it needs to be remembered that being "green" is merely a concept -- and not an absolute.

A datacentre, he argued, could be considered "green" in that it more efficiently processes applications that would otherwise be processed manually in a distributed fashion. An efficient data centre, he said, is actually off-setting less power efficient work that would otherwise be done elsewhere.

"Datacentres are very hungry on power -- that's true -- but if you look at other manufacturing or retail organisations, right across the whole supply chain there are real energy efficiency issues," he said.

"[Consider] a retail organisation and how they transport goods and refrigerate goods within the supermarkets. The datacentre is only just one component. Yes, it is very hungry, but not the most hungry".

Kris Kumar, MD of Sydney-based datacentre design specialists 3iGroup can think of 50 or 100 ways one might improve the energy efficiency of a datacentre -- but he said that for a datacentre to be "green" is "practically impossible to achieve".

"Power hungry beasts can't really be green in the true sense of the word," said Kumar.

Calling a datacentre "green" is like saying your four-wheeled drive car is green because it gets a little bit better gas mileage," added Cisco's Engstrom.

Topics: Intel, Cisco, Data Centers, Emerging Tech, Networking

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Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.Munir was recognised as Austr... Full Bio

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