Eric Boonstra is the managing director of EvoSwitch, a state-of-the-art, carbon-neutral data center in Amsterdam.
This May, DataCentres 2012 took place in the Acropolis Convention Centre in Nice, France. The main conclusions which emerged from the various presentations and roundtables were clearly that challenges in the area of connectivity are central to the industry, and that no data center will be able to avoid the need for green entrepreneurship. This event is Europe's largest content-driven conference for end users, telecommunications specialists, data center operators, cloud users, energy experts, solution providers and others across the sector. During the two days of the conference, there were more than 700 attendees (including myself) catching up on the latest developments in the market. Several experts came to talk about their views on various subjects relating to the data center and cloud sector. Topics such as energy efficiency, cloud evolution, DCIM, market prospects and opportunities were also discussed. The focus of this column on connectivity and green entrepreneurship.
Green in the City
One of the highlighted developments during the conference in Nice was the increasing construction of large single tenant data centers outside the major cities. However, the industry leaders at the event strongly believed that the construction of multi-tenants in (or nearby) major cities will continue, because of their connectivity needs. Direct connection to one of the several major Internet exchanges, such as AMS-IX in the Netherlands, ensures optimum data traffic and this remains of course the main requirement for data centers. Yet during this event, it was emphasized again that connectivity alone is not sufficient to ensure the continuity of a data center. To be able to continue to operate in this sector, green has become essential. Not only to use as USP for marketing and PR purposes, but also to lower costs and to meet (future) legislation.
Green with Renewable Energy
An important side note to green entrepreneurship in the data center industry that was made during DataCentres 2012, was that energy efficiency is not enough. The PUE of a data center is important and therefore, investing in energy efficient technologies is a must. But efficient and economical use of energy is not sufficient. A data center that is energy efficient and has a low PUE can not immediately be labeled as green.
Certainly when one looks at the overall market; growth in high energy consumption can at most be reduced thanks to energy efficiency but not cancelled. But limiting the growth will not lead to environmental gain. Therefore, the importance of renewable energy usage was stressed during the event. When using renewable energy, data centers make use of energy derived from natural resources such as solar, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat. Some large single tenant parties are already involved in developing their own power supplies or power plants, particularly in the United States. And that is where we (should) ultimately aim to be with our branch: not just the containment of current energy usage, but also lowering the existing consumption and its related adverse effects on the environment.
But for those who do not realize the need to do business as environmentally friendly as possible for our future generations, there still remains sufficient reasons to go green. As Andrew Jay, head of Data Centres EMEA at CBRE, at the conference pointed out: the key drivers for renewable energy have nothing to do with the environment, but everything to do with PR and cost savings.
"Greenwashing" -Undesirable and Unnecessary
The fact that energy efficiency is cost-effective, especially in the long term is evident (partly because green can cause a competitive advantage.) However, to obtain this advantage it needs to be communicated. This is why green data center business remains a hot topic for PR and communication about the company. Yet during DataCentres 2012, it was pointed out that many parties are talking about green business but only a small percentage really act green. Here lies the danger of "green washing," which companies are found to be guilty of: they manage to deform certain information (i.e. a low PUE) and conceal the other (only using energy from coal plants), creating a distorted picture of the extent to which social responsibility is taking in to account in the data center. Green is being faked.
Due to the existing cost benefits and the changing and stringent government regulations regarding CO2 allowable, green washing is no longer solely an undesirable and unethical thing, it's also totally unnecessary. Companies earn more simply because of effective green business initiatives. Management by fear - fear of bad PR or sanctions from the government - is no longer the main reason for implementing green technologies. Green saves money. The regular energy prices are expected to keep increasing over the coming years and a data center need not to be located next to a waterfall or a wind farm to make use of renewable energy anymore. It should only buy its power from parties that supply green energy and also actually invest in renewable forms of energy.
Other Trends and Developments
In the field of energy efficiency, the most popular technological developments of the moment lie in the separation of cold and warm air, free cooling with outside air and the usage of a higher temperature of standard cold air. Also modular building is gaining popularity worldwide. This allows data centers to obtain a high level of energy efficiency, because power and cooling can be regulated per unit. Thus, technological innovations in that area can be applied more quickly and more cost effectively.
With the increasing popularity of cloud and virtualization, the power needs per rack are changing. Therefore, one can see a growing demand for high-density racks, for purposes such as gaming. The growing demand for cloud and virtualization solutions enables heavier storage and networking solutions to find their way to the data center and this translates into these changing power demands per rack (the High and Low Density racks). Hardware manufacturers are increasingly providing equipment that is grafted onto the most environmentally friendly and energy efficient processes and data centers. Despite the fact that the total power demand of data centers is growing, we can see declining energy consumption per customer because our customers are increasingly aware of the importance of good energy management.
During the conference in Nice, there was also much discussion about the large expected growth in demand for private clouds. These private clouds are particularly interesting for (local) governments because of the confidentiality of their data. In addition, the green credentials of a data center are important for governments because they often have strict requirements regarding their own carbon emissions. For them it is often costly to facilitate an energy-efficient IT solution within their own walls.
Challenges for the Future
The main challenges for the development of the cloud market relate to government regulations regarding data transport over borders and laws and regulations on carbon emissions. At present, many countries have far too many different regulations, which put a brake on trade in digital services. Although European Commissioner Neelie Kroes is currently committed to allowing traffic between countries with her cloud-European Pact, countries with Business Intelligence content on their servers or in their cloud environment may not yet want to spread there information across national borders. Only once freedom of traffic has been obtained, can the maximum potential of cloud technology can be reached.
The regulations on carbon emissions will results in cost discrepancies in the data center market, because arrangements and measures vary. Where datacenters in some countries encounter high tax rates and levies as punishments when they do not meet the standards as set by their Government, in the Netherlands there are only incentive systems for data centers that take emission reducing measures at the moment. This allows for large international differences in the extent to which data centers operate green and the costs that are calculated for data center space. As we have achieved a high level of energy efficiency, the incentives in the Netherlands puts us in a favorable position at this point, because we can offer our services for a competitive price. Therefore, Dutch entrepreneurs will benefit from learning to think green. Not only in order to benefit from the various tax incentives, but also to remain competitive internationally.
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