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 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]

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.

Lefdal mines: green mineral went out green data center goes in

Lefdal mine

The huge Lefdal mine system

According to a press release of the Norwegian government, IBM and Lefdal mines have agreed on a memorandum of understanding to develop Lefdal Mine in Nordfjord, Sogn og Fjordane as one of the largest and leading centers for green data storage in Europe.

Lefdal mines is one of several in Norway, which has strongly committed themself to house green data centers. This can be an important growth industry for Norway, particularly in rural areas, which have large advantage in the supply of locally produced power, large and inexpensive land and also stable geological conditions. This is a competitive advantage when to facilitate this type of value creation. The letter of intent shows that Norway is an attractive country for this new industry.

This industry will offer exciting technological challenges for different players – both on the IT side, security side and on the operational side. It can mean knowledge-intensive jobs for the local communities that receive these centers.

– I am happy for this letter of agreement and hope it will provide positive effects for rural Norway. This can also help to provide new knowledge jobs and creating value in new and future-oriented industries. Such jobs are helping to ensure settlement in the country, says the Local Government and Regional Minister Liv Signe.

I congratulate IBM and Lefdal Mine with the letter of intent. The need for data storage is increasing rapidly. Norway has all the prerequisites for providing good and environmentally friendly solutions to the demanding international pioneer companies like IBM. We have a natural cooling, good technology and capital environment, good broadband infrastructure and stable conditions, both geologically and politically. This is sustainable value creation of the kind we want more of, says Trade and Industry, Trond Giske.

Lefdal mines is one of several other Norwegian initiatives in constructing large data centers inside mountains see the blog entry

Green data centers: digging up the mountains

and

Underground green datacenter city‘.

Transparency of carbon footprint cloud computing

ODCA IT services are delivered as a black box from the cloud making carbon footprint assessment difficult.

Now the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) is coming with a usage model that is designed to ensure organizations can predict CO2 emissions and track actual emissions through technical capabilities instituted by providers of cloud services.

This model must be a open standard approach for measuring the Carbon Footprint of services provided from the cloud. Along with the Standard Units of Measure (SUoM3) already defined by the Open Data Center Alliance, the amount of carbon created should be provided within a Service Catalog and its measure based on recognized standard approaches that are sufficiently auditable.

It is also expected that a multi-vendor and consistent approach across data center providers be available for subscriber consumption. It is expected that providers of cloud services offer access to the carbon measure in two ways:

  1. Within the Service Catalog, attached to price lists, so as to allow prediction and comparison of CO2 emissions
  2. Actual amounts summarized to customers via a portal and/or with their monthly bill

The measure will allow the organization subscribing to the cloud services to:

  • Consider shifting the workload to other suppliers with a lower footprint, or to low-carbon countries (where acceptable), or applying “follow-the-moon” techniques
  • Analyze carbon production over time to aid in planning and implementation of green IT policies
  • Provide audits and reports to corporate and regulatory bodies on their green and carbon profile

The carbon footprint is not expected to be a 100 percent accurate or deterministic figure nevertheless a assurance of a correct carbon footprint calculation is wanted. Therefore an accredited entity that is responsible for ensuring the compliance to cloud security standards. A Cloud-Compliance-Agency may also be a third party trusted by the Cloud-Subscriber. They could then determine and monitor the security state of the provider and respond to the Cloud-Subscriber when requested.

There is, as yet, no one globally accepted and universally applicable methodology. According to the ODCA the amount of carbon produced can be derived from the following formula:

In the interest of giving guidance on how to create and deploy solutions that are open, multi-vendor and interoperable, the ODCA have identified specific areas where the Alliance believes there should be open specifications, formal or de facto standards or common intellectual property-free (IP-free) implementations.

Greener IT Can Form a Solid Base For a Low-Carbon Society

Greening ITPrecisely a year a go we launched  the book Greening IT in print and online (free to download). And if I may say so, the book is still worth the effort of reading.

The book aims at promoting awareness of the potential of Greening IT, such as Smart Grid, Cloud Computing, Thin Clients and Greening Supply Chains. The chapter “Why Green IT is Hard – An Economic Perspective” is my contribution to this book. See Greening IT and read the following press release.

Press release Greening IT

Information Technology holds a great potential in making society greener. Information Technology will, if we use it wisely, lead the way to resource efficiency, energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions – taking us to the Low-Carbon Society.

The IT sector itself, responsible for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, can get greener by focusing on energy efficiency and better technologies – we call this Green IT. Yet, IT also has the potential to reduce the remaining 98% of emissions from other sectors of the economy – by optimising resource use and saving energy etc. We call this the process of Greening IT. IT can provide the technological fixes we need to reduce a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors of society and obtain a rapid stabilisation of global emissions. There is no other sector where the opportunities for greenhouse gas emission reductions, through the services provided, holds such a potential as the IT industry”, says Adrian Sobotta, president of the Greening IT Initiative,   Founding Editor and author of the book.

In her foreword to the book, European Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard writes: “All sectors of the economy will need to contribute…, and it is clear that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have a key role to play. ICTs are increasingly recognised as important enablers of the low-carbon transition. They offer significant potential – much of it presently untapped – to mitigate our emissions. This book focuses on this fundamental role which ICTs play in the transition to a low-carbon society.”

The book aims at promoting awareness of the potential of Greening IT, such as Smart Grid, Cloud Computing and thin clients. It is the result of an internationally collaborative, non-profit making, Creative Commons-licensed effort – to promote greening IT.

There is no single perfect solution; Green IT is not a silver bullet. But already today, we have a number of solutions ready to do their part of the work in greening society. And enough proven solutions and implementations for us to argue not only that IT has gone green, but also that IT is a potent enabler of greenhouse gas emission reductions”, says Adrian Sobotta.

It is clear that the messages in the book put a lot of faith into technologies. Yet, technologies will not stand alone in this immense task that lies before us. “Technology will take us only so far. Changing human behaviour and consumption patterns is the only real solution in the longer-term perspective”, continues Adrian Sobotta. IT may support this task, by confronting us with our real-time consumption – for instance through Smart Grid and Smart Meters – thereby forcing some of us to realise our impact.

But technologies, such as Green Information Technologies, are not going to disperse themselves. Before betting on new technologies, we need to establish long-term security of investments. And the only way to do this is to have an agreed long-term set of policy decisions that create the right incentives to promote the development we need.