Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Sunday, July 14, 2024

Virtual Fireside Chat with the Green Grid Executives 

It is the mission of The Green Grid Association, a non-profit, open industry consortium, to become the leading authority on resource efficiency in IT and datacenters. The Green Grid's John Tuccillo and Mark Schiller open up about the consortium's activities and the benefits of membership.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with John Tuccillo, Chairman of the Board and President, The Green Grid and Mark Schiller, executive director. The goal of our talk was to get a better understanding of The Green Grid and the benefits of membership.

The Green Grid Association is a non-profit, open industry consortium of end users, policy makers, technology providers, facility architects, and utility companies that works to improve the resource efficiency of information technology and datacenters throughout the world. The consortium has more than 200 member companies from around the world and over 4,000 individual members.

The Green Grid started with 11 vendor companies in North America back in 2007. Today a considerable share of the membership community, 37 percent, is comprised of end users. Other membership demographics include 21 percent IT vendors, 27 percent that are facility vendors and then 15 percent that are facility infrastructure vendors. Membership profiles include smaller entities, government, utilities, architectural firms, engineering organizations and academia from universities around the world. It is a healthy cross-section of the global community.

Steve Campbell: The Green Grid is gaining traction in the industry; however, there are still many in the datacenter community that have not heard of the organization. Let's begin with a simple description of The Green Grid.

John Tuccillo: The Green Grid is a global organization dedicated to improving the resource efficiency of datacenters. We accomplish this mission by working collaboratively worldwide with more than 200 member companies and over 4,000 people all focused on ways to increase the resource efficiency of IT in datacenters.

Most organizations benefit by being able to participate in a dialogue with their peers. They have the opportunity to network with their peers from other companies, to be able to share similar interests and then work together collaboratively on a variety of tools, metrics, and resources all dedicated to the same purpose. For example, let's take a 700-person company with a datacenter in the UK; they can work collaboratively with peers that have shared the same responsibilities whether they are in the Silicon Valley, Beijing or Tokyo.

Steve: Do organizations really care about green initiatives, or is it good company optics? You might think this is a somewhat jaded question but I frequently see organizations that give green computing and green datacenters lip service because it's good for PR. It reads well in press releases and website material. But in reality they are doing little or nothing to effect real change.

John: I think that's a great observation and it's something quite honestly that The Green Grid has been tracking since our inception back in 2007. If we were going to create this global entity we wanted it to have the credibility of actually providing value to the industry. There are many different organizations that claim green this and green that. We wanted to ensure that if we are going to invest time and resources into this effort then it had to have tangible benefits. And that's really what I think makes The Green Grid different. So to answer your question about what people really care about, the efforts around resource efficiency primarily offer two values.

There is business value in the form of reduced OPEX. If you are more productive for each unit of energy consumed, you're increasing the net present value of the asset known as datacenters and IT. In addition there are environmental sustainability commitments. Many companies are recording their environmental sustainability programs. By using tools and metrics that an industry has agreed upon or baseline improvements, you can now start to quantify the environmental sustainability performance for your company, and you're in a better position to make a quantifiable commitment to the street, to your customers, to your peers and to the press.

Steve: How does a company benefit from being a member? I know you touched on that with collaboration meetings with the peers, etc., and dealing with the company's IT...

John: There's nothing like being able to test and validate ideas and develop new approaches than by working collaboratively with your peers. Because of the construct of The Green Grid it's all very transparent. We have a methodology for companies to be able to proactively engage with each other. We've also created a tool that is really taking off. Last year we introduced a tool called Data Center Maturity Model (DCMM).

Steve: Tell me about DCMM?

John: The Data Center Maturity Model was developed primarily within the EU with engagements from North America, Japan, and Australia. It is an agreed upon methodology to benchmark your datacenter across five levels of relative maturity, and across some 40 or 50 different conditions. Once you start to quantify that maturity, and you enter your data into the online tool, you can start to compare yourself to similar datacenters with similar business challenges, environmental locations, geographies, structures, age of buildings and more.

Steve: Okay so you can basically run these models before doing anything?

John: Absolutely.

Mark Schiller: You can run hypothetical what-if scenarios, and then you can also run them against your existing deployed datacenters to assess yourself comparatively. Then you can create a roadmap for taking your current practices up to a higher level towards state-of-the-art best practice in industry. Today there are almost 400 different users, who are in various stages of using the DCMM.

Steve: Is there a benefit here to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Public?

Mark: I think the answer is absolutely there's a benefit to the public. This is really a win-win in lots of ways. We are all aware there's scarce or limited resources. As an industry we can use those resources most effectively and efficiently. That improves the supply and demand equation and potentially lowers costs for everybody.

When the costs of running IT go down, by virtue of implementing state-of-the-art efficiency practices, those sectors can then in turn provide their services to the public at a lower price than they otherwise would be able to. So I think absolutely, the public benefits in terms of making sure we are using scarce resources effectively, and not unnecessarily driving the price of those resources up, the economic benefits that trickle down to everybody.

John: Let me give you a real practical example of that. Take a look at some of the big Web giants in the world, for example, eBay, Yahoo, Facebook, Google. These are all members of The Green Grid. These companies are already employing and using the best practices recommended by The Green Grid.

These companies and many more are publicly reporting on their websites their Power Usefulness Efficiency (PUE) numbers. They are employing energy efficiency strategies as part of their environmental sustainability models and business practices, and they are publicly reporting it. Why are they doing this? Quite honestly if I was in the marketing organization of these entities, it's a way to increase brand affinity. So a consumer has a better sense of whether the company he or she does business with is being run efficiently and responsibly.

Steve: There is a lot of discussion regarding renewable energy and the datacenter. The green datacenter is about reducing power consumption, but you still need a power source of course. What do you forecast in terms of renewable energy?

John: The Green Grid really doesn't have a perspective on the renewable sources. Datacenter equipment relies upon electricity; our goal is to make sure it is being used as effectively as possibly. We recognize that anything we can do to increase the energy efficiency – regardless of the source energy – is going to increase productivity.

For example, in a given government – and I'll use the United States as an example – the United States has assigned values to different forms of source energy through the Environmental Protection Energy. The EPA played a role in this global harmonization effort that The Green Grid was orchestrating. So, if you're in the United States and you want to get a sense of how to quantify your percentage of energy to a different source or another, we've come up with a way that you can do this, but it doesn't affect the PUE. Why? Because PUE quantifies your energy efficiency from your service entry to the datacenter to the IT gear. Or in other words, it quantifies how to measure how much energy is wasted or lost, regardless of the source energy.

Mark: To add a little color to what John said, the global harmonization work led to three metrics: Green Energy Coefficient, Energy Reuse Factor and Carbon Usage Effectiveness. 

These three metrics collectively have been agreed upon through the global harmonization work. Japan, Europe and the US came together to agree on a common interpretation. And to tie this back to one of your previous questions about the member benefits and the benefits for the industry in general: the feasibility of holding those discussions with policy makers from different governments is a key member benefit for being part of The Green Grid.

Next >> Global Harmonization Efforts Continued

Steve: How did Japan, the US and the European Union actually agree on anything like this?

Mark: This is an ongoing task force that started a few years ago and the intention is that The Green Grid become more engaged in the localized energy efficiency endeavors of governments. We realized that there was a lot of duplicity. There was a lot of really good work coming from different regions of the world and we thought: why not kick off an effort to "harmonize" these efforts?

We asked for the governments to send approved, designated representatives that would have the authority to speak on behalf of their local governments, be it the US, the EU or others. After more than a year's worth of regular meetings, these governmental entities agreed to a baseline metric for quantifying the energy efficiency of their datacenters and IT infrastructures. Since the announcement was released, the governments have requested to formally extend the work of the task force. We are working on the scope and charter for the next round of deliverables.

Steve: That's great because?

John: I think governments end up having a major benefit from these harmonization efforts. It not only enables them to speak with each other in the same language, but also have common metrics that apply across borders and mean the same thing in different jurisdictions. It's a very powerful tool for governments to be able to be on the same page.

Steve: Your website is content rich, which is good and bad. Finding information can be difficult. Where's a good place to start?

John: There are two case studies that companies should download and read. First, a case study on eBay's Arizona datacenter. In that datacenter eBay preplanned for liquid cooling and has plumbed the facility to be able to quickly employ liquid cooling. In another case study, member company Disney used the Green Grid methodology for a datacenter energy-efficiency assessment to be able to start adjusting its plans for increasing the productivity of its datacenters and cooling architecture.

Steve: The eBay datacenter is in Arizona, my immediate thought there is the whole renewable energy of using solar as a renewable power source for the datacenter, which I have seen in the Las Vegas area a couple of times.

John: The eBay datacenter in Arizona is in its early concept stages. eBay uses targeted PUE performance as one of its design criteria. The company used the PUE-based practices together with the Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) metric (which looks at the carbon emissions associated with operating a datacenter) and the Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) metric (which calculates how efficiently a datacenter is using water) as best practices and targets. eBay is also employing the Data Center Maturity Model as a way to be able to quantify the effectiveness of its new design.

Steve: Has PUE become an industry standard yet?

Mark: At this stage in terms of usage and adoption, it might be called a defacto standard; however, it's important to know that formal standardization is moving forward through the work of JTC1 and ISO. There's a committee pushing PUE and other efficiency metrics forward into the formalized International standardization process.

Steve: There seems to be an increase of vendors talking about water-cooling. Water cooling solutions vary from cabinetry to water-cooling the servers. Do you see a comeback for water-cooled equipment in the datacenter?

John: I think that liquid cooling, and I'm saying liquid instead of purely water, but I think liquid cooling is coming back. The industry is challenging itself in ways to increase the effectiveness of how it powers and cools its IT equipment. Recently The Green Grid updated its free air-cooling maps and calculators online. We produced a series of maps and tools that would allow people to start to quantify how they could take advantage of things such as free air cooling, using ambient cool air. Many of our members have started to employ cooling architectures that don't have traditional mechanical cooling. We've seen that presented at The Green Grid forum just last March; we've seen our own members now experimenting with ways to run their temperatures and humidity settings within the new guidelines.

I think that is liquid cooling coming back into the datacenter, part of me says you can argue that it never went away, it was just used differently. The Green Grid offers a forum that let's you challenge and collaborate on these ideas. In fact one of our member companies was an early pioneer in these efforts and there is an interest group within The Green Grid dedicated specifically to cooling and within that group they challenge each other and look into new architectures and methodologies to employ cooling.

Steve: Where do you start to take the datacenter and make it a more efficient and greener. Companies come out with a mandate to change the carbon footprint and we need to be proactive. Where do you start, and what are your recommended steps?

Mark: That's a great question I would go back to John's referencing our Data Center Maturity Model tool. Personally I think that tool provides a great basis for the start of a self-assessment process. It collects together many of the measurements and metrics and processes that the Green Grid has pioneered into a single framework that takes a look at the datacenter practices at a holistic level and then addresses each area individually, so that you can both understand where you are today and build yourself a roadmap to where you want to be in the future.

John: The DCMM and many of the tools on the website allow you to take those first steps. As Mark articulated, you first need to take a good assessment of where you are. Start to challenge yourself on ways to improve but then when it comes to the rubber hitting the road, you want to know how to actually employ the practices that The Green Grid recommending.

There are white papers and online tools that help you do that. We also have The Green Grid academy on the website. This is a virtual reality classroom where you go in and are greeted by someone who we affectionately call the really "scary avatar dude." The "dude" walks you through ways to enact some quick improvements on your datacenter's resource efficiency, using primarily tools and resources coming out of The Green Grid, but it also gives you access to many others. Once you've gone through those fundamental steps, I really do believe is in your best interest to become actively engaged in the organization. Because it puts you in a position to be able to validate what you are thinking, trying new ideas and being able to pick people's brains that have walked in your shoes or are currently walking in them.

Steve: The experience of someone who has "been there, done that" can be tremendously helpful. Can you summarize our fireside chat?

John: I think Mark did a really nice job earlier. Improving the resource efficiency of the IT in your datacenters really comes down to a couple of basics. The Green Grid tools were developed in a very transparent way across a healthy cross section of the industry and it was done so in a collaborative fashion. If it's posted on The Green Grid you have a very high confidence level that it is going to be effective and it is vendor neutral. After that I would suggest becoming a member of The Green Grid. Align yourself with peers who are in the same position as you are and you have the ability to be able to challenge the thinking and be a part of this community as we continue to push that curve.

Steve: Okay. A couple of key things that I'm picking up are that it is vendor neutral, which I think is very important, and basically communicating and sharing with your peers. They're both again very powerful.

John: Transparency and vendor-neutrality are part of our actual bylaws and processes. The methodology ensures that no one interest can really drive an agenda.

Steve: John and Mark, thanks for you time and additional insight to The Green Grid.