Greening the data centre

In the process of digging around the 'greening' of data centres (no, don't laugh), I ran into the boss of Migration Solutions, one Alex Rabbetts. By a weird coincidence, his Surrey office is more or less exactly on the spot where my computer department was in the early seventies, when I first started taking 'sustainability' seriously.

In those days, I was inspired by E F Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful" book. I was further motivated by the country's oil supply shortages, not to mention the fact that my company made stuff from hydrocarbons. And then, to put the tin hat on it, Ted Heath forced us into a three-day working week.

It made me dream of a better world in which we consumed less and thought more about our environmental impact. I embarked on a journey which, due to a number of side-tracks, took 29 years to bring me to a meaningful destination, environment-wise: involvement in a huge sustainability project, primarily with the Science Museum.

During the past fifteen months, I've been applying this experience to the IT world through my work with analyst firm, Freeform Dynamics. We knew from the start that IT was both a contributor to environmental damage and an enabler of savings elsewhere. We also knew from our research that companies are not turned on by doing green things for their own sake. They are primarily interested in money, appearances and regulation.

Alex Rabbetts not only came to the same conclusions himself, but he added an environmental assessment service to his data centre building, consultancy and operations company. If you have a data centre of less than ten thousand square feet, his firm will conduct a fixed price assessment for £2,500, an amount he would "normally" expect a client to recover in three or four weeks. The assessment looks at 120 different factors which have an environmental impact.

He knows that no data centre can be green, but most of them can be greener.

Unlike hardware vendors, whose natural instinct is to get you to replace kit, Migration Solutions is independent of vested interests (apart from its own) and can usually find plenty of improvements without touching the hardware. The company looks at the whole environment, including things like noise, light and waste, as well as power. It triages its findings into things which can be done for nothing, things which require a bit of expenditure and things which can wait until the next refurb'.

He takes into account regulations, both current and upcoming and warns that companies with over, say, 50 racks* could be pushed into the arms of the government's upcoming Carbon Reduction Commitment legislation. Initially, this will apply to any company on half-hour metering that uses more than 6,000MWh of electricity per annum.

DEFRA's website currently claims that companies spending more than £1M on electricity could find themselves subject to this regulation. Both Rabetts and I remember the figure being £500,000 just a few weeks ago. And a quick Google of '500,000 crc' brings up bunch of pages with the old number on it.

It very much looks as if the government has taken the pétard of fluctuating energy prices and hoisted itself with it. Either that or it realised that, at £500,000, its catchment would overwhelm the regulatory system.

But, whether you're liable or not, it might be worth taking a look at Migration Solutions' service. It is pragmatically focused on environmental principles with the by-products of potentially saving money, looking good and being prepared for regulations when they head your way.

*My calculations went something like this:

Assume a rack is 5KWh
Double it to 10KWh for cooling and other infrastructure energy costs
Now multiply by 24 then by 365 to give an annual 87.6MWh
Approximately 68.5 racks would put you in reach of the CRC regulations

I said 50 because your organisation is bound to have non-IT energy bills too.

Click here for more posts from this author

Through our research and insights, we help bridge the gap between technology buyers and sellers.