The Global View

Angry man rants on data centres

Ooh – look at the angry man.

Alex Rabbetts is MD of Migration Solutions. He sat down to write something for Greenbang, which we thought was quite cool, even if it is a bit angry and about erm, data centres.

So here it is – Get ready for: Environmental altruism or just common sense? 

As Planet Earth slides gloomily towards a deepening environmental catastrophe, it seems as though we cannot move without our social consciences being stabbed from messages such as Recycle! Regenerate! Cut waste! Kyoto! Live Earth! Go green! Offset your carbon! As a backdrop to this relentless barrage of messages, we are constantly fed images of a black, apocalyptic future that our children’s children and their goldfish will have to endure – if we’ve not inadvertently made them extinct by then.

On a personal level, there are simple steps that we can take – recycle household rubbish, take the bus and leave the car at home, turn your spud peelings and left-overs into compost, but when it comes to the grown up stuff and the infrastructure that the country depends upon, does this thinking go out of the window? 

Cut to data centres: huge electronic warehousing facilities that the country is seemingly becoming more and more dependant upon. Typically, these next generation factories house an institution’s data necessary for its operations: bank account information and transactions, utility records, core governmental operations… all are deeply embedded in these establishments. The ideological benefits of these power-hungry beasts are well established but in the opposing corner, the environmentalists are starting to wage war against what can be seen as tomorrow’s smoke-spewing chimneys.

Due to a huge and rapid advance in computing, blade servers and high speed switching, data centre power consumption has soared. Over the pond, studies have revealed that servers and data centers account for 61 billion kWh in the year 2006 (about 1.5% of total US electricity usage), and this figure is expected to rise to more than 100 billion kWh by 2011 if present trends continue.

Overall, in the US, computer use has been estimated to consume 9.4% of total electricity, with the bulk of consumption coming from PCs and monitors, and substantial additional portions from data centers and networking equipment. Such facts seemingly make the personal act of recycling a mere cola can pointless, surely? Or can we apply our newly-acquired/enforced personal habits on a broader level?

Why not? It’s common sense after all. A few simple steps here and there is not only good for the planet, but when you think about it, it seems illogical not to act. Take, for instance, the issue of switching off. Simply stated, keeping data systems lit up 24/7 is unnecessary. Aside from the green factor, money is needlessly spent on wasted electricity.

Low energy bulbs can be used to manage lighting and many PCs and servers are left switched on, even when they are not in use. An average PC switched on for 24 hours per day, 220 days per year will be responsible for up to a tonne of CO2 over a 3 year period and cost £53 per year in electricity. This can be changed, literally, at the flick of a switch.

Recycling is also an area where the environmental issue is championed and a few quid can be saved. An estimated 1.5 million computers are buried in landfill sites every year. Memory can be re-deployed, and printer cartridges, hard disks, cables, and racks re-used. Even when kit is justifiably end-of-life, there are institutions that will come and remove anything that requires disposing of.

Not only will they dispose of equipment in accordance with the recent WEEE directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) legislation, but any cost incurred by such removals will be offset by any money made by the disposals supplier – in fact, this can potentially work to the extent where recycling end of life equipment becomes profitable and green.

It really is as simple as that.