Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Datacenter Operators Weary of Green Messaging 

According to a recent survey from the Uptime Institute, there's a new affliction hitting the datacenter community: green fatigue. The small players can't compete with the Googles and Microsofts of the world.

According to a recent survey from the Uptime Institute, there's a new affliction hitting the datacenter community: green fatigue. The small players can't compete with the Googles and Microsofts of the world.

The Institute's latest survey of datacenter owners and operators received more than 1,000 responses. Only 50 percent of North American respondents said they considered energy efficiency to be very important to their companies. Amid the constant barrage of green IT messaging, this figure has continued to fall over the past three years.

The lack of interest is especially pronounced among smaller companies. Big datacenter operators, like Google and Microsoft, have the financial capital and engineering expertise to implement all manner of green IT strategies. They also have the largest economies of scale, and the datacenter game can be won or lost on this metric alone. Take Amazon Web Services for example. It's difficult to compete with the cloud provider's massive purpose-built infrastructure.

The survey sample was comprised of IT staff and senior executives from a range of industries, including the financial sector, technology services companies, government, healthcare and manufacturing. Nearly half of the respondents manage at least three sites. The demographics broke down into North America (56 percent), Europe (18 percent), APAC (13 percent), Latin America (6 percent), and Africa-Middle East (5 percent).

Around the world datacenter budgets are expanding, the study found, with the biggest growth occurring in emerging markets. There's a bifurcation between the largest datacenter operators and the smallest ones, says Uptime Institute Symposium Program Director Matt Stansberry, with the largest centers seeing the biggest increases. While 70 percent of operators have built or renovated a site within the last five years, this number jumps to 81 percent for organizations managing more than 5,000 servers. Colocation and cloud providers, which generally represent larger outfits, are outpacing their enterprise counterparts with 85 percent versus 66 percent (respectively) having built new infrastructure.

Survey after survey has linked improvements in energy efficiency with accountability and motivation. This ultimately comes down to who is paying the datacenter power bill. The biggest energy savings achieved so far, a reduction in PUE from 2.5 in 2007 to 1.89 in 2011, was driven primarily by facilities teams. They are the ones paying the utility bill 80 percent of the time – a statistic that has held steady for three years. The situation is not likely to change unless companies hold IT departments accountable for defining and implementing energy-efficient projects, Stansberry remarks.

A worldwide tally of datacenter operators shows 56 percent identify energy-efficiency as very important, while only 50 percent of North American respondents expressed this level of commitment. When it comes to the reasons for pursuing green IT, most see it as an opportunity to save money. Freeing up datacenter capacity was cited as another main driver. A growing number of operators identified corporate social responsibility and green legislation as contributing factors.

Carbon reporting remains a low-priority item. Only 21 percent of those surveyed take part in self-reporting; the other 79 percent do not. This figure has also held steady over the last three years, with Europe (at 30%) outpacing North America and Latin America. Organizations with more than 5,000 servers are twice as likely to report their carbon footprint, while the largest operators are actively pursuing green certification, such as USGBC's LEED, EnergyStar, and so on.

PUE tracking is seeing increased support, with 67 percent documenting this metric. According to the Uptime Institute, "the Green Grid's PUE measurement Categories 0-3 define increasing levels of sophistication and accuracy for collecting PUE data." The reading gets more accurate and more complex as the number gets higher.

Once again, the biggest companies outpace the smaller guys; 90% of large organizations track PUE, while only half of the smallest companies do. The survey found that for datacenter service providers, PUE measurement was nearly ubiquitous. Europe has strongest adoption (76 percent) followed by North America (65 percent), and Latin America (51 percent).

All these data points are leading up to one conclusion:

"Companies whose IT operations are a huge portion of their cost structure have radically outpaced the rest of the industry in efficiency adoption," observes the Uptime Institute report.

There's a certain profile that is predictive of green IT adoption. These are the largest datacenters, those managing over 5,000 servers, who have a large and experienced staff and the most financial drivers.

In countless cases, implementing green tactics requires a scale and sophistication that is the domain of larger organizations. As Stansberry notes: "Being able to raise your server inlet air temperatures, to manage airflow containment systems, to install VFDs on your pumps and your air handlers, these are fairly sophisticated engineering projects from an operator standpoint and you need to have a larger, more experienced staff to really be able to manage these without a lot of risk, so that's where you see a big buy-in from the largest organizations to reduce datacenter energy consumption."

This inability to compete must be frustrating for smaller providers. Cloud computing technologies like virtualization and workload management software might offer some assistance as could modular building techniques, but here too, deployment is higher among larger providers.

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