Is ageing infrastructure costing the public sector?


    Eureca project coordinator Rabih Bashroush recently outlined the lessons learned from evaluating more than 350 public sector data centres and found that there is significant room to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste. Louise Frampton reports

    EU Commission-funded research has suggested that ageing infrastructure and under-utilisation of servers is wasting energy and public money. The Eureca project identified electricity savings of >45GWh per year; with public sector spending representing about 19% of GDP in the EU, tackling the key issues around data centre energy usage by public sector organisations could have a major impact.

    So what are the key issues that need to be addressed? At Data Centres Summit, Eureca project coordinator Rabih Bashroush revealed that an evaluation of more than 350 public sector data centres has identified some of the major challenges facing the sector, including the high costs of maintenance. Many public sector data centres are hosted in listed buildings and in prime locations that are expensive, while organisations also struggle to maintain the required uptime, due to ageing infrastructure. This is further compounded by the fact that it is difficult to recruit and retain the required skills set within the public sector. Rightsizing new builds is also a challenge; while best practice design guidelines may be adhered to, data centres can end up being inefficient if they are oversized.

    Procurement is another issue in the public sector, as there are often many stakeholders with competing objectives. The sector tends to use templates that have been used before, rather than introducing energy efficiency requirements to tender documents. An added factor is the fact that data centre managers are not incentivised to invest in energy saving measures; they do not get to see the energy bill or see the end result of initiatives.

    Bashroush added that the technical landscape today is also complex, with many different options available to choose from – whether it is building a new data centre, using colocation services or moving to the cloud. This makes decision-making even more challenging for public sector managers.

    The Eureca project has found wide variation in PUE in public sector data centres – from 1.5 up to 7. The smaller server rooms, which constitutes the majority of public sector data centres, are at the higher end of PUE. Data centres with the lowest PUE are those that are hosted in colocation facilities.

    “We found there is an association between the size of the data centre, its age and the PUE. It is much harder for smaller and older the data centres to be efficient. Conversely, the majority of regulation and policy has focused on energy efficiency and large data centres. Yet the vast majority of public data centres (80%) have less than 25 racks,” commented Bashroush.

    As only about 3% have more than 125 racks, this policy focus has had very little impact on the public sector.

    “This isn’t good news… The best way to make them [small server rooms] more efficient is to consolidate distributed IT…This is easier said than done,” Bashroush continued.

    He pointed out that the main area that the public sector needs to focus on is servers and utilisation.

    Eureca analysed the energy consumption breakdown by IT equipment type and found that 65% was attributed to servers, 25% storage and 10% networking. Eureca has calculated that the average cost of hosting a server in the public sector is ¤14,000 (£12,500) – not including software licence costs. This takes into consideration energy consumption, maintenance, rent, manpower and support, among other factors.

    Bashroush explained that, on average, there is a server for every 20 public sector employees: “This allows us to make some interesting calculations. For example, if we take the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics, in September 2017, the UK public sector (central and local) employed 5.492 million people. Thus, according to our calculations, the UK public sector hosts around 274,600 servers. At ¤14,000 running cost per server, this tells us that the UK public sector spends around £3.4bn on running server rooms and data centres. The opportunity to achieve financial as well as environmental savings is huge.”

    He revealed that the average server utilisation, across the 350 public data centres was found to be between 15-25%.

    “The rest of the time these servers are sitting idle and still consuming energy,” said Bashroush, adding that there are “lots of zombie servers out there.” He added that: “If your utilisation falls below 40%, your energy consumption goes up exponentially.”

    Points affecting server utilisation, according to Eureca, include:

    • Active – active/clustering deployments
    • Peak utilisation versus performance degradation
    • Ensuring there is enough capacity in the system to cater for workload peaks
    • Having the right server configuration for the workload
    • Ultimately, tackling utilisation costs significantly less than addressing infrastructure.

    The Eureca project has also discovered that server age is an important factor – 40% of data centres deployed in the public sector are more than five years old. This 40% of servers consumes 66% of the facility energy consumption, yet these servers only contribute to 7% of the compute capacity.

    “This is not about efficiency; it is about waste,” said Bashroush.

    Ageing infrastructure is costing the public sector. According to Eureca’s modelling, hosting a single application on hardware which is 5.5 years old, with 5% utilisation and a PUE of 3, consumes 51GW hours per year. With an upgrade to current servers, the energy consumption would decrease from 51 to 2GW hours per year.

    This demonstrates the huge opportunity to save energy, public money and reduce waste by investing in a hardware “refresh”, while also improving utilisation.

    Eureca has developed a chart that allows easy calculation of the payback for investment in hardware refresh. For a three-year old server, using 1.5MW, the payback for investment from a hardware refresh would be nine months. However, for a server of six years, with server use of 2MW, it would be less than six months.

    “You can see why organisations such as Google refresh every six months,” comments Bashroush. So what is holding the public sector back? The public sector is limited by budget availability but there is also a misconception that hardware refresh has a negative impact on the environment in the wider sense (ie in terms of landfill, manufacturing processes etc).

    Eureca’s analysis has found that this is not the case. To achieve the maximum impact with the least amount of investment, Bashroush emphasised that it is crucial to rightsize the capacity of the data centre; over provision of capacity costs a lot of money.

    Rightsizing availability and redundancy are also important – what is the requirement of your workload? What availability does the application require? Consolidation of services across councils, into one data centre, also offers significant potential for savings.

    Ultimately, with public spending firmly in the spotlight, implementing changes could offer significant benefits, while helping to reduce the carbon footprint for public services.

    Eureca project

    Eureca provides solutions to help identify cost-saving opportunities while signposting the environmental impact of Procurement choices in data centres. In the UK, Eureca has supported the UnITy programme to modernise government infrastrcuture. This has included the move to shared data centre infrastructure for Defra and the the Environment Agency, among others. See


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