Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, August 8, 2022

eBay Builds Energy Efficiency Dashboard 

in the hands of eBay, it could mean the start of a conversation that brings about a new focus on the green technology movement. This week at The Green Grid Forum 2013, eBay debuted their Digital Service Efficiency dashboard, a device that effectively stakes their claim as a leader in the energy efficient computing discussion.

Digital, service, and efficiency. These words when used by tech companies do not always mean much. Many companies exist in the digital world, many of them are trying to provide a service, and no one wants to suffer from a perceived lack of efficiency.

However, in the hands of eBay, it could mean the start of a conversation that brings about a new focus on the green technology movement. This week at The Green Grid Forum 2013, eBay debuted their Digital Service Efficiency dashboard, a device that effectively stakes their claim as a leader in the energy efficient computing discussion.

Green Computing Report had an opportunity to speak with Dean Nelson, Vice President of Global Foundation Services for eBay, about the Digital Service Efficiency dashboard and what it means for green computing as a whole. During our talk, he frequently mentioned the word ‘conversation,’ noting that the main big picture goal eBay wanted to accomplish was to open up the floor among tech companies on how to track and evaluate their efficiency and their impact on the environment.

“The important part is we wanted to share our methodology and our data so we can start the conversation, start the dialogue with industry peers, government officials, anyone who is interested,” said Nelson on the reasoning behind releasing this information.

PUE, the brainchild of TGG, is indeed listed on the graphic, but so too are many other telling statistics. A look at the dashboard, an interactive version of which can be found here, is below.

As shown above, eBay ultimately measures their efficiency in transactions per kilowatt hour.  While not every company can do this, simply because not every company deals in online transactions, eBay believes their dashboard can become a model for others who wish to enter the green discussion. A part of that is finding a standard metric one can track over time. “Having a common currency and a standard service allows you to measure and connect it to the business value,” Nelson noted.

Even though eBay’s metric is somewhat unique to them (although the non-web services portion of Amazon could conceivably use something like transactions/kWh), it provides for them a number they can consistently refer to and hope to improve. Indeed it is one of those numbers that eBay hopes to increase by ten percent over the next year.

Ten percent is an important benchmark for eBay, as the company hopes that by next year, the statistics that comprise this dashboard will help eBay achieve a ten percent reduction in cost and carbon per transaction as well as a ten percent increase in transactions per kilowatt hour.

Already the metrics used on the dashboard have garnered some surprising insights for eBay. They run their transactions on servers that track buys and sells through URL’s. The increased emphasis on efficiency sparked a code adjustment that resulted in improved efficiency. “They adjusted the code to use less memory per application just for one pool of servers. And that allowed us to pull 400 servers out of that pool,” Nelson said regarding the code switch that eBay engineers and programmers found.

“That’s almost a megawatt of power consumption reduction,” he continued on the impact of pulling those servers on the environmental bottom line. “And that means we didn’t have to replace them so that’s a couple million dollars in cost avoidance. So even though the same work is being done, we’re getting more transactions per kilowatt hour because we’re using less servers to do the same work.”

One area where eBay wants to see significant improvement is their portion of transactions that take place on clean energy. That number currently stands at zero but, according to Nelson, there are three projects underway that will hopefully move ten percent of their energy usage away from the grid and toward renewable resources. That includes plugging a solar array in Utah to their data center in the area.

Perhaps more important than the advancements at eBay could be the conversation Nelson wants to start in the big tech community that would push the goals of green computing forward. “We keynoted at the event because there is a lot of work on The Green Grid about productivity measurements,” he said. “There’s a lot of great minds here so we can sit down and start having further conversations.”

As such, Nelson would rather be a contributor in a community than one who dictates to other companies what they should or need to do. “We’re not telling everybody how to do it, we’re sharing our information, how we’re increasing efficiency and productivity internally at eBay and we’re sharing both the methodology outside our metric and our data.”

What eBay is doing is one of the first examples of a concerted effort to establish something akin to the open source community that sparked the growth of Hadoop and related big data technologies. Except instead of determining how to map and reduce tera-sized datasets, they would be solving how to do that at the lowest cost to the environment.

Incidentally, technology in general has advanced to the point where keeping energy required down is healthy for both the environment and for many a company’s bottom line. After all, data centers burn a not insignificant amount of power, and that power is frequently not cheap en masse. Nelson hopes other CIOs will study eBay’s infrastructure and resulting report. “We believe this is going to drive behavior changes, we’ve seen that in our own company. When a CIO goes back and starts to look down into the infrastructure, the effectiveness of that infrastructure instead of just the cost, then it’s a totally different conversation.”

With that being said, eBay considers themselves more of a participant in an evolving community such as was present at this week’s The Green Grid Forum. Nelson hopes his company’s example will feed some actual data for that force to chew on. “Right or wrong, there’s an example with real data behind it that we can have a conversation about instead of theoretical.”

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