Getting on the Green Grid

Tony Simonsen


By Tony Simonsen, Managing Director, Equinix Australia


No one is immune to the affliction of age and the ravages of time, even in the robust life cycle of a data center.

While much hype has been made of the ‘greenification’ of the data center industry, the push to get our data centers on a ‘green’ path needs to be viewed as less of an environmental fad and more of a necessity of time, efficiency and evolution.

Australia has over 90,000 data centers, many of which are approaching the milestone of ten years in operation.

Aside from the exponential advances in technology that have revolutionised our sector in that decade, power and other operational utilities have also evolved deeming many of these facilities inefficient and outmoded.

Companies of all sizes are realising that it is best to locate their data in facilities that are not just technologically advanced, but also up-to-date with environmental considerations and energy effectiveness.

The reality is that thousands of Australian data centers are largely inefficient right now and we need to move with the demands of the times. The impact is not only environmental, but also fiscal as many of Equinix’s customers are realising through significant cost savings.

Hot in the city

As summer approaches in Australia, the market will be reminded of the stress placed on groaning and often antiquated electricity networks. Old school data centers, which have not been designed with utility efficiency in mind, consume vast amounts of energy.

The nature of digital consumption means that online companies need to run their facilities at maximum throttle around the clock, whatever the demand. This practice sucks out a lot of electricity off the grid and at maximum load times, like summer, can create a disaster recovery nightmare.

As a result, data centers can waste 90 per cent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid.

Unsurprisingly, data centers and data center providers have been attracting more scrutiny because they consume significant amounts of power. One of the sharpest indicators of this trend toward increased accountability comes via the United States, where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been developing an Energy Star rating system for data centers, so customers can compare their energy efficiency. Switzerland is on a similar path with its Naturemade Star label. We are pleased to say that all four of Equinix’s Swiss IBX’s have earned this Naturemade Star certification.

At Equinix these issues are at front of mind as the call for greater energy efficiency comes at a time when outsourced data centers are seeing tremendous demand. The multi-tenant data center market, worth US$13.2 billion globally in 2010 – is set to reach US$22.4 billion by 2013.

Meanwhile, the cost of building and maintaining a state-of-the-art data center and then replacing it every 10 years is becoming too expensive for enterprises to handle alone.

With the ability to scale, data center providers can run virtualized environments which offer superior operating efficiencies and price points, especially when factoring in the cost of new construction.

Virtualization has rewritten businesses’ data center demands.

A recent Equinix customer reduced its number of physical servers from 300 to 94, reducing related energy consumption by 75 per cent.

There are two looming myths that need to be debunked from the datacentre bunker.

#1: Big Data Centers Cannot be Green Or Efficient

A common misconception about large data centers is that they’re neither green nor efficient. In the case for ‘greenification’, size does matter.

Think of a company running five small internal data centers and compare the cost of running those distinct facilities with a single, comprehensive data center. From the standpoint of efficiency, power consumption and cost, one big one wins over a few small ones every time.

The operating cost constants of supply of electrical power, facilities operation, support personnel, security guards, etc. remain relatively fixed, regardless of facility size.

Also smaller environments require greater equipment redundancy, especially for cooling, UPS and generators. As providers of large, collocated data centers, we take the efficiency results a step further. Their size means they offer economies of scale – across global locations – that few, if any customers could cost-effectively match.

Myth #2: All Organizations Compute PUE The Same Way

The formula for computing power usage effectiveness is simple: Divide the kilowatt-hours that a facility consumes by the total kilowatt-hours that the facility’s IT equipment uses. In a perfect world, the result would be a PUE of one. But lighting, humidifiers, and cooling equipment all erode effectiveness. The industry is now struggling to provide a ‘snapshot’ of measurement that works across all market and situational variations, but we are all working towards that goal.

The average data center has a PUE of 2.5 according to widely cited statistics, over the past two years Equinix’s new builds have achieved an average design PUE of 1.6.

As data centers are our business, we are also effectively obliged to commit publicly to be stewards for responsible energy consumption and help drive the path to utility effectiveness.