Preview Data Center 2.0 – The Sustainable Data Center

Data Center 2.0: The Sustainable Data Center is an in-depth look into the steps needed toData Center 2.0 transform modern-day data centers into sustainable entities.

To get an impression of the book you can read the prologue right here.


In large parts of the world, computers, Internet services, mobile communication, and cloud computing have become a part of our daily lives, professional and private. Information and communication technology has invaded our life and is recognized as a crucial enabler of economic and social activities across all sectors of our society. The opportunity of anytime, anywhere being connected to communicate and interact and to exchange data is changing the world.

During the last two decades, a digital information infrastructure has been created whose functioning is critical to our society, governmental, and business processes and services, which depend on computers. Data centers, buildings to house computer servers along with network and storage systems, are a crucial part of this critical digital infrastructure. They are the physical manifestation of the digital economy and the virtual and digital information infrastructure, were data is processed, stored, and transmitted.

A data center is a very peculiar and special place. It is the place were different worlds meet each other. It is a place where organizational (and individual) information needs and demands are translated in bits and bytes that are subsequently translated in electrons that are moved around the world. It is the place where the business, IT, and energy worlds come together. Jointly they form a jigsaw puzzle of stakeholders with different and sometimes conflicting interests and objectives that are hard to manage and to control.

Electricity is the foundation of all digital information processing and digital services that are mostly provided from data centers. The quality and availability of the data center stands or falls with the quality and availability of the power supply to the data center.

For data centers, the observation is made that the annualized costs of power-related infrastructure has, in some cases, grown to equal the annualized capital costs of the IT equipment itself. Data centers have reached the point that the electricity costs of a server over its lifetime will equal or pass the price of the hardware. Also, it is estimated that data centers are responsible for about 2% of the total world electricity consumption.

It is therefore easy to understand why the topic of electricity usage of data centers is a subject of discussion.

Electricity is still mostly generated with fossil fuel-based primary energy resources such as coal, gas, and oil. But this carbon-constrained power sector is under pressure. Resilience to a changing climate makes the decarburization of these energy sources mandatory to ensure sustainability.

From different parts of society the sustainability of data centers is questioned. Energy efficiency and indirect CO2 emissions caused by the consumption of carbon-based electricity are criticized.

The data center industry is working hard on these issues. According to the common view, it comes down to implementing technical measures. The idea is that more efficient power usage of servers, storage and network components, improved utilization, and better power and cooling management in data centers will solve the problems.

This idea can be questioned. Data centers are part of complex supply chains and have many stakeholders with differing perspectives, incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements and complex interdependencies. In this situation there is no simple, clear definition of data center efficiency, and there is no simple right or optimal solution.

According to the Brundtland Commision of the United Nations, sustainability is “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Given the fact that we are living in a world with limited resources and the demand for digital infrastructure is growing exponentially, there will be limits that will be encountered. The limiting factor to future economic development is the availability and the functioning of natural capital. Therefore, we need a new and better industrial model.

Creating sustainable data centers is not a technical problem but an economic problem to be solved.

A sustainable data center should be environmentally viable, economically equitable, and socially bearable.

This book takes a conceptual approach to the subject of data centers and sustainability. The proposition of the book is that we must fundamentally rethink the “data center equation” of “people, planet, profit” in order to become sustainable.

The scope of this search goes beyond the walls of the data center itself. Given the great potential of information technology to transform today’s society into one characterized by sustainability what is the position of data centers?

The data center is the place where it all comes together: energy, IT, and societal demands and needs.

Sustainable data centers have a great potential to help society to optimize the use of resources and to eliminate or reduce wastes of capital, human labor and energy.

The idea is that a sustainable data center is based on economics, organization, people and technology. This book offers at least multiple views and aspects on sustainable data centers to allow readers to gain a better understanding and provoke thoughts on how to create sustainable data centers.

Creating a sustainable data center calls for a multidisciplinary approach and for different views and perspectives in order to obtain a good understanding of what is at stake.

The solution is, at the end of the day, a question of commitment.

Data Center 2.0 – The Sustainable Data Center (Update)

Data Center 2.0: The Sustainable Data Center is an in-depth look into the steps needed to transform modern-day data centers into sustainable entities. The book will be published at the beginning of the summer.

To get an impression see the following slide deck.

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Data center CO2 emissions

There have been some debate about the source of electricity a data center is using and the CO2 emissions it is causing.

Recently some interesting figures came available by the International Energy Agency. These are the CO2 emissions per kWh electricity generation. Published in the 2013 edition of “CO2 emissions from fuel combustion – Highlights”.

It isn’t easy to find consistent and complete time series. A lot of the data that can be found is using different definitions and/or different time periods what makes it difficult to aggregate these figures. IEA has published time series for the period 1990 – 2011.

To make some comparisons a selection from different parts of the world is showed in table 1. Remarkable differences in CO2 emissions can be found. Some countries show a huge decrease of CO2/kwH emission during the period 1990 – 2011 whereas others show an increase. Also within a region the differences are considerable. Zooming in on the E.U. countries with Tier 1 data center markets; United Kingdom, France, Germany and The Netherlands, (with the DC hubs London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam) we see a CO2/kwH reduction of 34.4%, 41.9%, 21.4% and 33.4%. Differences in emissions and emissions trends are caused by different energy policies and different compositions of the power plant fleet.

Table 1. CO2 emission per kWh from electricity generation, source IEA.

  2011kg CO2 /kwH Difference 1990 -2011


E.U. 0.352 -21.4
United Kingdom 0.441 -34.4
France 0.061 -41.9
Germany 0.477 -21.4
The Netherlands 0.404 -33.4
Russian Federation 0.437 7.6
U.S.A. 0.503 -13.6
Canada 0.167 -14.8
Australia 0.823 0.7
Singapore 0.500 -44.9
Japan 0.497 14.3
Korea 0.545 4.8
India 0.856 5.4
China 0.764 -14.5


The figures that are showed are averages. The CO2 emission of a data center depends on the power plants that are really used to deliver electricity to the data center. Depending on the electricity demand the power supplier will assign different power plants. The assignment of power plants is according to their production efficiencies (short-run marginal costs of production) and capacity and this production mix will influence the CO2 emission per kwH.

CO2 emission per server

To get an impression of the CO2 emission per server in different parts of the world we making use of the report ”Estimating total power consumption by servers in the U.S. and the world” of J.G. Koomey of Stanford University, the power usage of low, mid and high range server are estimated on 180, 420, and 4800 Watt. This will lead to the figures in table 2 based on a 24 hours x 365 days usage.

Table 2. Yearly CO2 emission per server.

Kg CO2/year Low range server Medium range server High range server
E.U. 555 1295 14801
United Kingdom 695 1623 18543
France 96 224 2565
Germany 752 1755 20057
The Netherlands 637 1486 16987
Russian Federation 689 1608 18375
U.S.A. 793 1851 21150
Canada 263 614 7022
Australia 1298 3028 34606
Singapore 788 1840 21024
Japan 784 1829 20898
Korea 859 2005 22916
India 1350 3149 35993
China 1205 2811 32125


Data center use case

What do all these figures mean for a data center? Lets take for example a data center of 1000 servers with a PUE of 1.8. In this case we use a server mix of 95% low range, 4% mid range and 1% high range servers. Besides servers the data center will also use storage and network components. The ratio of the energy use of servers versus the energy use of storage and network components is set to 75:15:10.

We can define a worst-case scenario when electricity is created with conventional coal combustion; in that case 1kW of electricity is equivalent to 1 kg CO2 emission. For the data center in this use case, that would be an upper limit of 4957 ton CO2 per year. In reality power suppliers are using a mix of different energy sources. As we can see in table 3, the lowest emission is 302 ton and the highest emission is 4244 ton. A difference with a factor 14!

Table 3. CO2 emission of a data center.

Metric ton CO2/year Servers Storage Network Data center
E.U. 727 145 97 1745
United Kingdom 911 182 121 2186
France 126 25 17 302
Germany 985 197 131 2365
The Netherlands 835 167 111 2003
Russian Federation 903 181 120 2166
U.S.A. 1039 208 139 2494
Canada 345 69 46 828
Australia 1700 340 227 4080
Singapore 1033 207 138 2479
Japan 1027 205 137 2464
Korea 1126 225 150 2702
India 1768 354 236 4244
China 1578 316 210 3787


Zero emission

There is of course the alternative case of zero CO2 emissions if the electricity supply is completely based on nuclear, hydro or renewable energy. Some countries like Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have extreme low CO2/kwH emission (1, 13, 17 and 30 gram).


Data Centers and Mount Sustainability

Mount-SustainableThis year Ray Anderson, often called the “greenest CEO in America” has passed away. Mr. Anderson was the founder of Interface, one of the world’s largest producer of commercial carpet tiles. After 20 years, running his business in compliance with government regulations, he read in 1994 Paul Hawken’s book “The Ecology of Commerce,” which gave him a new understanding of how business practices could damage the environment. From that point forward, he pursued what he called “Mission Zero”: to make Interface fully sustainable by 2020 through the use of recycled materials and renewable energy sources.

He walked the talk and fifteen years later after his call for change there were some impressive results:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions cut by 82%
  • Fossil fuel consumption by 60%
  • Cut waste by 86%
  • Cut water use by 75%

And at the same time increased sales by 66% and doubled earnings.

In the data center world we have  discussions about energy consumption, E-waste, green IT and we are working on the PUE, WUE and CUE metrics of the Green Grid. But do we have the same kind of impressive results?

In his book “Confessions of a radical industrialist”, Anderson explains how he created a model of profitable sustainability. According to Anderson our industrial system today, inherited from the steam-driven days of the first industrial evolution 18th century, is primarily linear, with “Take-Make-Waste” processes. What does this mean? In short: “materials are extracted from the earth’s crust, transported to manufacturing sites, used to produce products (all materials not part of end product are discarded as waste), then products are transported to users and finally, at the end-of-life, discarded as waste”.

The implicit assumption of this production system is that we have infinite resources. Now we now better, fossil fuels are limited, rare earth elements in electronic components are scarce, water is scarce. So by definition this way of producing is unsustainable. Anderson states in his book that every company has to face three ecological challenges:

  • What we take from earth
  • What we make and what collateral damage we do in the making of it
  • What we waste along the way, from source to the landfill

Within Ray’s company this lead in 1994 to the mission and aim for zero waste and zero environmental impact: Mission Zero or in Ray’s terms climbing Mount Sustainability. To reach this summit of Mount Sustainability the Interface enterprise defined seven paths:

  1. Moving toward zero waste
  2. Increasingly diminish emissions along the supply chain
  3. Increasing efficiency and using more and more renewable energy
  4. Closing-loop recycling
  5. Resource efficient transportation
  6. Creating commitment (sensitivity hook up all along the supply chain
  7. Redesign commerce

Nevertheless this clear and distinctive steps, this isn’t an easy ride. Anderson regular quotes Albert Einstein “Problems cannot be solved by the same thinking used to create them”, innovative thinking is key to get results.

In the data center industry we have the same kind of issues as Anderson is describing for the carpet industry. The only difference is that Ray Anderson started already in 1994 with addressing these problems and showed some impressive results.

So why not prepare your self for the new year and read Anderson’s book to get inspiration for your Sustainable Data Center and balancing the complexities of the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits?

Impact Australian roll out carbon tax on IT

This week the Australian parliament passed the Clean Energy bill, 2011 – the effect of which will be to introduce a carbon tax starting in July of 2012 as explained in the GreenMonk blog . The tax will start at 17 euro per tonne in 2012-2013 and will increase to 24.15 euro in 2013-2014 and 25.40 euro for the period 2014-2015.

Using the results of a research done by the Australian Computer Society (ACS) in 2010 we can estimate the financial consequences of this tax on using information technology . The ACS report gives an almost complete picture of the carbon footprint of ICT in Australia in 2009. Part of the equipment is used in households but a lot the equipment is used by organizations. Looking at the money that is involved this carbon tax must give an incentive to green IT.


[UPDATE 28 august 2012, Australia change policy see blog entry New development: merging carbon markets]

Iceland green data center initiatives

Data center operators want to cut energy usage and energy costs. The Nordic countries, with their cool temperatures, cool water and an electricity generation that is nearly entirely from renewable sources are starting all kinds of initiatives to answer this needs. In an experimental phase we have the tidal power generation at the Orkney Islands, in Norway large projects have started to use old mines as data center locations.

Now in Iceland a third data center project has started after Thor DC and greenqloud: Verne Global. To enable Verne Global to open for business by the end of this year, Colt will manufacture and ship a 500m2 Modular Data Centre (MDC)) from the UK to Iceland, where a total of 37 modules will be assembled and commissioned at the Verne Global Campus in Kevlafik, Iceland.

Manufacturer and construction time for the first data center space should be less than four  months. To follow the progress and build of the data center Colt made a interactive portal where a countdown already has started. Jeff Monroe at Verne Global stated that with the modular approach “… the opportunity to quickly scale capacity to address customer demand in a rapid timeframe.” Colt has customized its modular design to optimize Iceland’s climate to endure that free, fresh air cooling is available 365 days a year.

Verne Global claims to reduce cooling costs by 80% or more. Also by using electricity which is 100% sourced from geothermal and hydroelectric power plants there is no carbon footprint. To give an idea about the impact to transfer 8MW of critical load power to a data centre here, you would save approximately 50,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. This is equivalent to a savings of hundreds of thousands of pounds annually if you were to purchase carbon offsets on carbon exchanges.

The data center facility is on the site of the former Keflavik Naval Air Station. Connectivity to the site is provided by redundant, high-capacity, multi-terabit-per-second connections including FARICE-1, DANICE and GREENLAND CONNECT.

The Icelanders put a lot of effort to build a data center industry in Iceland. It was only a year ago, the 21 of may to be precise, that the President of Iceland and Iceland’s Minister of Industry opened the first Icelandic data center, at Steinhella in Hafnarfjörður. Some interesting background information can be found in the report “Iceland The Ultimate Location for Data Centers” made by PricewaterhouseCoopers for The Invest in Iceland Agency, that is run by the Trade Council of Iceland and the Ministry of Industry.

Hopefully for them it will give a new boost to their North Atlantic economy. Something dearly needed after the financial crisis struck Iceland last year.

Data centers, reducing energy usage by heating and distribution

In delivering computer process power and storage capacity there are apparently two opposite approaches, the cloud computing mega data center  “bigger is better” and the local nano data center “small is beautiful”. The current “bigger is better” model of cloud computing leads, although shifted from customer to supplier, still to enormous capital expenditures, problems in power usage and cooling, power supply (Critical Areas for Transmission Congestion) and leads also to some structural vulnerabilities in terms of resiliency and availability of the infrastructure. The alternative p2p data center approach leads to questions about delivering enough “horse power”, network capacity, network supply and the governance of such a distributed system.

A new paper from Microsoft Research,” The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing” added a new perspective to this discussion. They propose that servers, dubbed as Data Furnaces (DF’s), should be distributed to office buildings and homes where they would act as a primary heat source.

According to them the problem of heat generation in data centers can be turned into an advantage: computers can be placed directly into buildings to provide low latency cloud computing for its offices or residents, and the heat that is generated can be used to heat the building. By piggy-backing on the energy use for building heating, the IT industry could grow for some time in size without increasing its carbon footprint or its load on the power grid and generation systems.

The Data Furnaces (DFs) would be micro-datacenters on the order of 40 to 400 CPUs that would be integrated into the house/office building’s heating system. Examining a number of climate zones in the U.S. and operational scenarios, the researchers say that when compared to the US$400 cost per year for a server in a conventional data center, the estimated savings per DF per year range from $280 to $324.

In the paper, the researcher focused on homes as an illustrating example. But as stated by them similar approach could be used to heat water tanks, office buildings, apartment complexes, vegetable farms, and large campuses with central facilities. See also the bog entries on nano data centers   and the OZZO distributed data centers concept. As for the combination of greenhouse farming and data centers (symbiotic data centers) have a look at the site of Parthenon a company in the Netherlands that is working on this concept.

IT infrastructure and energy infrastructure get more and more intertwined.