A lot of companies out there would like us to believe that data centres can somehow be green. But as one data centre builder admitted to me this week, "Anyone who claims they have a green data centre is lying". Data centres are just inherently unsustainable places.
According to a report last year from the charity, Global Action Plan, An Inefficient Truth, the intensive power requirements needed to run and cool data centres now account for around a quarter of the ICT sector's C02 emissions. Another report from the US Environmental Protection Agency that in the USA in 2006, 1.5 percent of national electricity demand came from energy consumption in data centres.
The other thing about data centres is that they cost a lot of money to run. Expensive kit and building costs aside, power and cooling eats electricity and consequentially buckets of cash. In an effort to grab the zeitgeist of saving money and being green, data centre specialist Migration Solutions has launched what it claims is the "industry's first tool to provide a 360 degree view of the environmental impact and performance of data centres". The company claims that by cross referencing and analysing about 120 different data points , the audit acts as a "health check on the data centre's environmental impact".
Now some of that will seem like greenwash - basically a financially motivated data centre audit dressed up as environmentally sustainable - but Migration's MD Alex Rabbetts, a 20 year veteran of the data centre industry has some interesting things to say about how data centres are managed and his industry's basic lack of thinking about efficiency - and cardboard!
Yep, it seems that just by getting the rid of the cardboard from a data centre you can get it to run more efficiently. Cardboard courses dust, and dust is the enemy of the data centre, it clogs cooling fans and makes the whole system work harder and run hotter. The problem is that data centres are magnets for cardboard. Whereas your PC comes fully assembled in one or two boxes, servers come in up to fifteen different boxes, with all the different components individually wrapped in evil cardboard.
So according to Rabbetts, forget Fresh Air cooling or siting your server in Iceland, one of the key things you can do as a data centre owner is make it very clear to hardware vendors where to stick their excess packaging.