Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Data Centre Energy: Is Efficiency More Important Than Source?

A great deal of time and energy is being put into developing renewable energy sources capable of driving the data centre industry of the future.  This is not without good reason.  Indeed, the power and cooling needs of the modern facility are such that the industry consumes the largest amount of combined energy in most Western markets.  Figuring out ways to produce more renewables is paramount to making sure global networking remains a viable enterprise.

The question then becomes one of how important a source of energy is in relation to the productivity it generates.  It is a fascinating question in light of an excellent piece published in the January edition of The Economist.  The unnamed author of the piece delves deeply into the idea of energy efficiency as being the ‘invisible fuel’ of the future.

In simple terms, the author asserts that the best way to meet our ever-increasing energy demand is to eliminate waste.  It is a reasonable thesis on which to build the argument that the sources of energy we use to power the 21st century economy are less important than the need to use energy efficiently.  When energy is used as efficiently as possible, generation needs are reduced in relation to productivity.

The Economist offers, as an example, thousands of housing units now being built by the UK's Circle Housing.  By knocking down older homes that are not energy-efficient and replacing them with new homes, they are able to reduce annual energy bills from £2,000 to somewhere in the region of  £450.  Bills can be further reduced to £350 by using prefabricated components to build extremely efficient housing.

The author points out that these energy-efficient buildings accomplish a couple of goals.  Firstly, they use less energy through more efficient building materials and designs.  Secondly, they are capable of generating power - through solar and other means - that can be returned to the grid.  The housing is a perfect example of combining waste-saving technologies with the ability to generate power on a small-scale.

Creating Commercial Adaptations

Organisations such as Circle Housing have already demonstrated that they can design and build structures capable of eliminating nearly all energy waste.  Now the challenge is to adapt those designs to commercial structures that tend to use and waste more energy.  Data communications facilities are prime targets.

As The Economist explained, the architects and designers of the past were rarely interested in investing extra funds in energy efficiency.  They were fine with wasting energy as long as they could direct design budgets to other things they found more interesting.  That kind of thinking had to change and, fortunately for everyone, that change is already taking place.

The energy roadmap of the future begins at the place efficiency and renewable power generation intersect.  We will not succeed if either component is neglected in favour of the other.  We must create new data centre facilities that are as efficient as humanly possible if we are to ever realise the goal of making renewable power sources the de facto standard.


  1. Hear Hear, we should be seeking the most efficient data centres possible.
    New CoLo facilities should attempt to breakaway from the cages concept as this is not an efficient method of delivering digital services, go with containers and if necessary secure individual racks with locks.
    Ultimately, the use of the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres (Energy Efficiency) provides excellent guidance to build and operate energy efficient data centres.
    As the article says, the best fuel is the one you don't use and its called "energy efficiency" the invisible fuel.

  2. Given the percentage of data centre costs that are taking up by your energy bill then efficiency should always be a major focus. Can that also mean using Green sources, which I think is what the article is alluding to then, on purely cost and ROI terms I'd say currently not. However the one area of uncertainty is around energy price volatility. We may be experiencing lower energy costs for the moment, but this is unlikely to last, and even today we could hardly say prices are stable which make planning and pricing difficult for data centre operators. Renewables offer the potential for a more stable energy pricing environment, albeit at a higher level, which may be beneficial in terms of the long term planning of new data centre facilities.