For most people in IT – including MSPs – energy efficiency is not at the top of their list of concerns. After all, there are so many other things to worry about! Still, even generally efficient technology, such as blade servers (which have long since replaced the bulky and energy hogging machines of the past), combined with cooling and other operational activities, require a significant amount of electricity. This in turn remains an important budget line item.
Indeed, according to a recent Time article, “The Surprisingly Large Energy Footprint of the Digital Economy," that digital economy as a whole, including smart phones, telecommunications, and computers, consumes 10 percent of the world’s electricity. According to the author, that’s “the same amount of electricity that was used to light the entire planet in 1985” and half again as much energy as is used to power all the world’s commercial airliners.
Then, of course, there are the environmental concerns. Alarmed by the growth in digital energy consumption, in 2006 the U.S. Congress passed Public law 109-431, which states that, “It is the sense of Congress that it is in the best interest of the United States for purchasers of computer servers to give high priority to energy efficiency as a factor in determining best value and performance for purchases of computer servers.” And that law, in turn, inspired a whole host of efficiency and “green” initiatives from the government and the private sector. For instance, in early 2010, eight leading organizations that set or use data center energy efficiency metrics met in Washington, DC and agreed to three guiding principles for measuring energy efficiency in data centers, namely:
- Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), using source energy consumption, is the preferred energy efficiency metric for data centers. PUE is a measurement of the total energy of the data center divided by the IT energy consumption.
- When calculating PUE, IT energy consumption should, at a minimum, be measured by the output of the uninterruptible power supply (UPS). However, the industry should progressively improve measurement capabilities over time so that measurement of IT energy consumption directly at the IT load (i.e. servers) becomes the common practice.
- For a dedicated data center, the total energy in the PUE equation will include all energy sources at the point of utility handoff to the data center owner or operator. For a data center in a mixed‐use building, the total energy will be all the energy required to operate the data center, similar to a dedicated data center, and should include IT energy, cooling, lighting, and support infrastructure for the data center operations.
In terms of actions MSPs can take to improve efficiency, some are low-cost or no-cost. For instance, The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Environmental Energy Technologies Division, develops technology that uses, converts and stores energy more efficiently and with less environmental impact. Recognizing the large amount of energy consumed by high-tech industries and institutions, the lab’s application team developed Data Centers: Best-Practice Summaries. Berkeley Lab estimates that an integrated approach to energy management could offer potential improvements of 30-50 percent.
Other resources for paring energy use include EPA’s Energy Star server ratings (still under development but with lots of documentation available), and Energy Star Portfolio Manager®, an online tool you can use to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.
Then, of course, there is the Green Grid Association a non-profit consisting of end users, technology providers, and others that focuses on improving energy use in IT.
So, all in all, there are plenty of resources to go around. The good news is that most of the environmental steps these organizations focus on can also have bottom-line benefits. So, it really is a win-win.