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  1. 1. The Greening of Datacenters: Now or Never By Eric J. Roberson Prepared for Dr. Tony Chiaviello ENG 3329 Environmental Writing Fall 2008 Semester
  2. 2. Page 1 of 11 Eric Roberson ENG 3329-Environmental Writing Dr. Chiaviello 15-Dec-2008 The Greening of Datacenters: Now or Never “The type of thinking that got us into these problems is not the type of thinking that will get us out.” - Albert Einstein Technology is everywhere. We live in an information-driven world. People use mobile phones to talk and send text messages. Laptop computers connect to the internet wirelessly. Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are connected to bank networks and allow us access to money. Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) or cable modems keep us persistently connected to the internet. Department stores and supermarkets use radio- frequency interface devices (RFID) to track sales and automatically reorder stock. These are only a few of the technologies that rely on massive datacenters to function. Because of the connected world we live in, datacenter sustainability is critical to maintaining our dependence on technology and is the environmentally-friendly choice to make. We live in an era of rapidly increasing energy costs while simultaneously realizing that our traditional reliance on fossil fuels is running short. Without sustainable datacenters there could
  3. 3. Page 2 of 11 be detrimental impacts on our lives and business continuity, wounded company reputations, and irreversible damage to our environment. Causes of Inefficiency Two major factors underscore sustainability issues in the information technology (IT) industry, and more specifically datacenters. They are energy inefficiency and toxic computer waste. Disposing of IT equipment waste presents a number of processing challenges, including hazardous materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury, brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chlorides (Vitello 29). Precious metals such as gold and silver are also contained in computer and network equipment that could be reused (Vitello 29). All of these elements are found in IT components at concentrated levels inside datacenters. Datacenters today contain more equipment then ever (McAdam 2). “The majority of datacenters were built more than 15 years ago when power requirements and densities were much lower” (Dignan, et. al. 1). Enterprise networks need more and more servers to support their applications, and data is growing and being kept on storage for longer periods of time (McAdam 2). “Companies are forced to build new datacenters not because they are running out of floor space, but because they need power and cooling beyond what can be provided in their existing datacenters” (“Report to Congress” 21). According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), energy use more than doubled in datacenters from 2000-2006. It is expected to double again by 2011 (“Report to Congress” 7). Datacenter power consumption has risen 20 fold over the last decade, and consumption per square foot tripled in one year from 2004 to 2005 (Dignan, et. al. 1). The approximate 6000 datacenters in the United States consumed roughly 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy in 2006 (Kurp 11). By 2011, datacenters will consume about 100 billion kWh
  4. 4. Page 3 of 11 at an annual cost of $7.4 billion (Kurp 11). “Energy costs are approaching 30 to 40% of overall IT costs” (Dignan, et. al. 1). Datacenters also require large amounts of energy for cooling. The average datacenter cooling is over-provisioned by 2.5 times (Dignan, et. al. 1). Also, heterogenous technologies collide with different heating and cooling requirements, driving datacenter operating costs up. Since Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems last up to 25 years while IT equipment has a relatively short lifespan of two to five years, HVAC systems are often mismatched with the cooling requirements of IT equipment. Similarly, technology advances in the amount of time it takes to construct a building to house a datacenter. This makes HVAC optimization in such a rapidly changing environment more difficult, not only now but also for the future. Environmental Impact – A Case Study Most data center operators do not know what their energy costs are, therefore exact energy costs are difficult to determine (“Report to Congress” 86). “This has caused datacenter energy use and efficiency to move to the forefront of public policy, the IT industry, and data center operator discussions” (Schmidt 18). Symantec Corporation is a software manufacturing company based in Cupertino, California. The company employs more than 17,000 people worldwide, and has massive datacenters around the globe (“Symantec Business Overview”). In 2008, Symantec embarked on a goal to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions company-wide by 15% by 2012, using 2008 as the benchmark year (Thompson 1). If Symantec is able to attain this goal, a reduction of 13,000 metric tons of CO2 will be prevented from entering the atmosphere. That is the equivalent annual electric use for 51,000 homes in the United States (“Symantec Culver City” 1).
  5. 5. Page 4 of 11 One way that Symantec will accomplish the goal is through datacenter consolidation. Symantec’s Sunnyvale Data Center closure resulted in an annual cost savings of $450,000 for computer hardware and $540,000 for energy use (Thompson 1). Another way that Symantec will meet its ambitious emissions reduction goal is a company-wide power management program for all PCs. An internal audit revealed that 60% of end user’s computers were left powered on overnight; additionally, 48% of computers were left powered on over weekends (Thompson 1). Approximately $800,000 and six million kilowatts of energy is being saved annually by placing users’ computers in stand-by mode after four hours of inactivity, because the computers do not need to constantly be connected to the network consuming datacenter bandwidth during non- business hours (Thompson 1). Symantec has also earned the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification of its existing Culver City campus, and its Dublin facilities have switched to Airtricity, a renewable electricity utility company. LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which is a non-profit organization committed to expanding sustainable building practices (“Symantec Culver City” 1). All new Symantec facilities that are built will meet LEED standards. The LEED system has four certification levels – Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum – and it encourages sustainable green building practices in five key areas: • Energy conservation • Human and environmental health • Sustainable site development • Water savings • Materials selection and indoor environmental quality
  6. 6. Page 5 of 11 Earning LEED certification is a prestigious award that highlights a company’s concern for the well-being of employees and communities, and it underscores a company’s commitment to minimizing their environmental impact (“Symantec Culver City” 1). Other companies are following suit such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), Sun, and IBM (Myatt 1). Toward Sustainability Symantec’s CO2 emissions reduction goal is part of a more comprehensive environmental strategy that is motivated by Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR policies have increasingly become incorporated into the strategic planning of companies and is an important contribution of companies to the societies they operate in (Stratling 65). The responsibilities include economic as well as legal, socio-economic, ethical and moral, and charitable objectives (Stratling 65). CSR includes sustainable development, risk reduction, and environmental stewardship, all of which have become a central focus for large companies. Together, these objectives are an integral part and logical consequence of successful businesses. “The importance of risk management within companies is increasingly seen to include the management of reputational and environmental risks” (Stratling 68). Public climate change concerns are driving a focus on energy conservation as a means to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions. “Voluntary reporting on environmental issues, community related topics, and health and safety issues have grown significantly in importance” (Stratling 69). “With Greenpeace picketing companies like HP to protest the use of potentially toxic components, it also makes good public relations [sense] to be greener” (“Greening of IT” 12). An increasing number of businesses engage in strategic CSR in order to improve the reputation of their brands for marketing purposes. Marketers expect that the increasing interest consumers take into a firm’s social and environmental reputations will influence their purchasing behavior (Stratling 68).
  7. 7. Page 6 of 11 Holding Back Industries such as “electronic manufacturing have opposed regulations by engaging in communications in the public sphere to influence media, opinion leaders, and the general public” (Cox 369). Most organizations care about reducing energy consumption, and significant savings can be realistic. However, sustainability in datacenters only comes with a sharp, persistent focus on energy efficiency opportunities throughout the IT organization (“Energy Efficiency” 1). IT Managers remain unsure of how to make use of energy efficient technologies (“IT Purchasing” 21). Data center operators are trained to manage servers and IT equipment and to make sure that it runs. Even with the knowledge of the benefits of energy efficiency, staff may not have the knowledge to monitor and evaluate the energy performance of the data center’s cooling system, lights, power supplies, or computer equipment (“Report to Congress” 88). Many IT managers never see the energy bill for their equipment because a separate department often manages the facilities along with electricity and cooling costs. Likewise, job performance is not evaluated based on these energy costs (“Report to Congress” 86). Most companies are predisposed in their approach to datacenter sustainability, often ignoring the “precautionary principle” for its full value. Redundancy, that is having one server on standby to take over if another goes down, is seen as integral to data center operations. This also increases operation costs with a severe impact on sustainability. The appeal to caution and prudence for data integrity has restricted new and innovative approaches to datacenter operation, efficiency, and design. As a result, there are increased costs associated with operating datacenters, and the rampant energy inefficiency leaves behind a huge carbon footprint. The EPA has determined that “Eliminating redundancy will be impossible and probably undesirable. The key is to ensure that the redundancy is achieved in the most efficient way possible and that operators do not create more redundancy than is necessary, running servers whose sole function
  8. 8. Page 7 of 11 is to take over in case of failure of the principal servers, or cooling below even the overly conservative range suggested by manufacturers” (“Report to Congress” 87). The precautionary principle, as applied to datacenters, has no regard for environmentalism even with knowing that the greater the electricity consumed the greater the carbon footprint created. Rather, the focus is single-minded on “up-time” or the continuous availability of servers and networks (Myatt 1). “Although data center operators’ job performance is rarely if ever based on the center’s energy costs, interrupted operations resulting from attempts to institute new and untested software, hardware, or cooling innovations can threaten their jobs” (“Report to Congress” 87). Together, this makes it difficult to create a case for financial decision makers to make efficiency improvements and show concern for the environment. Creating the case can be a greater hurdle than implementation of the efficiency measures themselves (“Report to Congress” 88). A final and perhaps the greatest barrier to improved energy efficiency is the rapid increase in new computer applications that has occurred as the cost of processing power has fallen. With new applications the pace is also quickened with which IT equipment becomes obsolete and is replaced (“Report to Congress” 88). Going Green Recycling used IT equipment is necessary in order to achieve sustainability. But expectations should exceed recycling efforts. Companies should begin to support the top manufacturers who deliver on performance but also take into consideration energy efficiency and the manufacturer’s commitment to take-back recycling. One manufacturer, HP, helps divert materials from landfills and alleviates the problem of exporting scrap electronics to developing countries through its take-back program (Vitello 31). Companies can begin their own internal
  9. 9. Page 8 of 11 take-back programs too. IBM, for example, has developed a unique internal process that includes: • evaluating incoming equipment • extracting parts that can be reused • re-deploying equipment • recycling the rest (Vitello 31) In the absence of formal government regulations, the burden is on industry rather than the public to drive economic and efficient use of resources in modern datacenters. “There have been bumps on the road to [IT] regulation” (Vitello 30). But, there have also been attempts to develop a framework for interpreting ethical issues like sustainability and energy conservation in the public sector (Fleming and McNamee 136). The rationale for action seems stronger knowing that business continuity and our connected lives could be interrupted without sustainable datacenter growth. In fact, at the current rate of datacenter growth, at least ten new major power plants will need to be built in the United States before 2011 to keep up with the pace (Myatt 1). The burden must shift from the energy industry to supply more power to more economical use of resources in the IT industry. “There is huge room for improvement in understanding the facts and where problems really exist” and to “address the carbon footprint” of datacenters (Dignan, et. al. 2). The ability to make an assertion on progress toward datacenter sustainability also depends on the methods used to measure that progress. The “paradox for conservation is that knowledge is always incomplete, yet the scale of human influence on ecosystems demands action without delay” (Cox 337). The mindset of the precautionary principle, or the historical gold-standard of up-time in the context of datacenters, must shift. Datacenter operators must also begin to take accountability for the amount of energy their equipment uses.
  10. 10. Page 9 of 11 The day may not be far off when IT equipment buyers are more concerned about the energy consumption of a disk drive, server, or switch and whether the parts were recycled rather than actual acquisition costs (Dignan, et. al. 1). Organizations should begin to use the built in power management features in IT equipment and attempt to reduce power consumption with new and innovative technologies. An inventory of all IT equipment and applications should be taken, and unused servers should be decommissioned so they do not stand by idly consuming electricity (McAdam 2). Every financial decision maker should demand power and cooling information from vendors for all new computer purchases. Decision makers should not assume that similar equipment has the same energy requirements (McAdam 2). Likewise, datacenter operators are beginning to plan new facilities near renewable energy sources. Efforts toward LEED certification should be of the utmost importance, and planning the location of new facilities near sustainable sources of energy such as wind and solar farms or geothermal and hydroelectric sources should also be a motivating factor. In sum, best practices for going green include, but are not limited to: • Evaluate assets from applications to servers • Decommission or recycle where possible • Aim for LEED certification and sustainable energy sources • Monitor energy consumption of all systems in the datacenter • Train staff and hold them accountable for inefficiency Together, these initiatives will move datacenters toward sustainability and have a beneficial impact on the environment. These objectives may improve a company’s bottom line and reputation and may compel consumer loyalty. But most importantly, our connected world depends on it.
  11. 11. Page 10 of 11 BIBLIOGRAPHY Cox, Robert. Environmental Communication in the Public Sphere. “Symantec Culver City Site Awarded Prestigious LEED Gold Certification – ‘Green’ campus minimized environmental impact, maximizes sustainability”. Symantec Corporation Press Release. 23 Jul. 2008. Digman, Larry and Sam Diaz and Tom Steinert-Threlkeld. “Complexitiy and the Greening of the Datacenter.” CBS Interactive. 1-Aug-2007. <>. “Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency Public Law 109-431.” Environmental Protection Agency. 2-Aug-2007. “Energy Efficiency Requires IT Focus.” Top Tech News. 13-Nov-2008. pp.1-2. “The Greening of IT.” IT Week. Vol. 8 Issue 47. 12-Dec-2005. p.12. Kurp, Patrick. “Green Computing: Are you ready for a personal energy meter?” Communications of the ACM. Vol. 51 No. 10. October 2008. pp. 11-12. McAdam, Dianne. “The Greening of the Data Center.” The Clipper Group. 12-Sep-2006. pp. 1-2. Myatt, Bruce. “Energy-efficient data centers are here to stay.” Reed Business Information. 17-Nov-2008. Pp. 1-3. < articlePrint&articleID=CA6479659> Stratling, Rebecca. “The Legitimacy of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Corporate Ownership and Control. Vol. 4, Issue 4. Summer 2007. pp. 65-73. “Symantec Business Overview.” Symantec Corporate Profile Website. Symantec Corporation. 9-Dec-2008. <> “Symantec Culver City Site Awarded Prestigious LEED Gold Certification.” Symantec Corporation Press Release. 23-Jul-2008. < release/article.jsp?prid=20080723_02> Thompson, John Office of. “Environmental Progress and Next Steps”. Email to Everyone Symantec (Employees). 25-Aug-2008. Valenty, Richard. “Going green: IBM opens new, energy efficient data center in Boulder.” Colorado Daily News. Metro Pulse Section, p1. 18-Jun-2008. Vitello, Connie. “Computer Crash”. Natural Life Magazine. 2002. pp.28-31.