Data centres must improve awareness of energy-saving code of conduct

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    John Booth, an independent sustainable ICT consultant and the managing director of Carbon3IT, calls for greater awareness of energy efficiency best practice. With the projected growth in hyperscale, cloud, IoT and Edge, the sector needs to tackle its energy usage

    A decade after the introduction of the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres (Energy Efficiency), there is still a need to raise awareness of this document. It is shocking that only about 50% of the people working in data centre mission critical environments know about the scheme. Many are failing to implement the 150-plus best practices contained within the document and are therefore missing out on potential savings. 

    The EUCOC states: “For the purposes of the Code of Conduct, the term ‘data centres’ includes all buildings, facilities and rooms which contain enterprise servers, server communication equipment, cooling equipment and power equipment, and provide some form of data service (eg large-scale mission critical facilities all the way down to small server rooms located in office buildings).” 

    Essentially, this covers all ICT equipment rooms that are cooled, ranging from server rooms to hyperscale data centres and all points in between.

    The scheme was developed in 2007/8 by a collaboration between Defra, the British Computer Society – Data Centre specialist group (CK), and the EU Joint Research Centre, primarily to address some alarming research that had indicated that data centre energy consumption was increasing. The statement relating to that, and which is included in the EUCOC guidance document, says:

    “Electricity consumed in data centres, including enterprise servers, ICT equipment, cooling equipment and power equipment, is expected to contribute substantially to the electricity consumed in the European Union (EU) commercial sector in the near future. Western European electricity consumption of 56TWh per year can be estimated for the year 2007 and is projected to increase to 104TWh per year by 2020.”

    European energy consumption

    John Booth is the chair of the BCS Green IT, and chair of the Data Centre Alliance’s Energy Efficiency and Sustainability SIG. He is also the principle reviewer of applications to the EUCOC.

    So, as we near the 2020s, what is the current energy consumption related to data centres across Europe? Well, unfortunately, data is very hard to come by as there is no legal requirement for data centre owners, be they public, private or academic, to report their data to one pan-European authority. 

    While energy reporting is required under article 7/8 of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive, data centre energy consumption often gets mixed with other energy data, especially in enterprises.

    A report published by the EU-JRC in 2017 (https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/141667150.pdf) showed that, for those organisations participating in the EUCOC, that is some 289 sites, the total annual electricity consumption was a little over 3.7TWh, a long way from 54TWh, let alone 104TWh.

    But we need to see this in context; the EUCOC has primarily the main commercial facing operators, and very few on-premise enterprise facilities, and while it is only 289 sites, this is still the largest survey or its type in the world.

    Other research has indicated that, across Europe, there are approximately 10,500 data centres – a mix of public sector, private sector and commercial. If we divide the total energy consumption (3.7TWh) by the EUCOC participants (289) we get an average energy consumption figure of 12,926MWh. Multiply this by 10,500 and we see that the total energy consumption (estimated) across Europe is 135TWh. This figure is a lot closer to the original forecast of 104TWh.

    However, this assumes that there are indeed 10,500 data centres in the EU. Estimates vary, and to be honest, does this figure include smaller on premises data centres, carrier/mobile networks and other computer rooms that may be used for industry, traffic and signalling systems etc?

    The truth is we simply do not know, and the figures are, as a result, potentially misleading.

    UK data from the Climate Change Agreement for Data Centres in 2017, which comprises commercial data centre operators only, put the actual energy consumption for 129 sites at 2.573TWh in 2016, which represented 0.76% of the 339TWh generated in the UK that year. The UK is currently the largest DC market in Europe, but recent data suggests that the other areas are catching up.

    Previously, I have postulated that the total UK plc data centre/server room energy consumption was considerably higher, at about 41.11TWh, but this was based upon 80,000 qualifying server rooms and included private business, all government and carrier/mobile networks. That represents approximately 12% of the electricity generated.

    In 2016, the total electricity generation across the EU member states was 3.10 million GWh, which converts to 31,000TWh, so total electricity consumption by data centres is approximately 0.45% if we assume that there are only 10,500 data centres in the EU.

    An article by Jens Malmodin et al, from Ericsson Research, suggests that the global energy use for data centres and ICT networks was in the region of 465TWh, of which 200TWh was data centres. The US accounted for 70TWh, so if EU data centre energy consumption is 135Twh, there appears to be a problem, especially as the APAC and LATAM regions are not included (www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/9/3027).

    So, these are big numbers and we know that there is a considerable opportunity to reduce the energy used in a data centre. The EUCOC provides such an opportunity in a measured and structured approach. It is a roadmap to energy reduction, but also a mechanism to really take control of your ICT assets.

    Opportunities for major financial savings

    The EUCOC has more than 150 best practices that cover management, IT equipment, cooling, power, new build and, finally, measurement and monitoring. 

    From case studies and other anecdotal conversations, data centre operators can reduce their energy bills by between 25% and 75% depending on how aggressive they are in adopting the best practices.

    In summary, despite some commentators’ views, the problem is not as bad as predicted, but that is only because people took heed. The fact remains that, with the projected growth in hyperscale, cloud, IoT and Edge, we have lots more to do.

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