Do we need a data center energy protocol?

Numbers — many equa­tions are used to illus­trate the current and future ‘consump­tion’ of data centers, but do we really know it exactly? I have made inquiries with various author­i­ties that should know, but there is no unequiv­o­cal answer to the ques­tion of how much power data centers in the Nether­lands consume. Isn’t it time to finally map this out with a new data center energy protocol?

A quick search provides many answers to the ques­tion of how much energy data centers actu­ally use:

  • A lecturer from the Univer­sity of Twente warns: too little power for inter­net means the end of unlim­ited inter­net. In 5 years’ time, 20% of the entire elec­tric­ity produc­tion will be spent on data traffic, good for 15% of the total CO2 emis­sions. (source: Tubantia).
  • Energy consump­tion 2018: 654 MW multi-tenant and 688 MW single-tenant (source: Dutch Data­cen­ter report 2018).
  • Energy consump­tion 2019: 1503 MW data centers, 80% green energy (source: Dutch Data­cen­ter report 2019).
  • The sector encoun­ters capac­ity prob­lems 6.2 PJ elec­tric­ity consump­tion, 10% of the total elec­tric­ity demand in North Holland (source: report CE Delft 2020–2050).
  • Data centers consume three times as much power as the NS (source: NRC).
  • NS annu­ally uses as much elec­tric­ity as the entire city of Amster­dam (source: Metro).

I wonder: where does this mess of numbers come from? Although I under­stand that stake­hold­ers have their own inter­ests and stick to figures that best substan­ti­ate their views. One talks about the energy contracts with suppli­ers, the other about the actual energy consump­tion or refers to the maximum power capac­ity of a data center. How many servers are installed and with what power? I don’t know, do you know?

From PUE to DIC

I have lived through the era of PUE, where data centers have finally achieved a huge effi­ciency gain with regard to infra­struc­ture. Further PUE improve­ment on the infra­struc­ture side of the DIC costs a lot of money and yields a little. As a next step, Mees Lodder, Dirk Harry­van, Max Amzarakov and the under­signed have devel­oped a new indi­ca­tor for energy effi­ciency. These are the Data Center Idle Coef­fi­cient (DIC) and the Server Idle Coef­fi­cient (SIC) from which the DIC is calcu­lated. This coef­fi­cient relates the CPU load of the IT equip­ment (% useful / % idle) to the energy consump­tion and thus provides insight into how energy effi­cient IT is when it is — say — not busy.

The DIC gives substance to the ‘Recog­nised Measures’ imposed by the govern­ment, of which the acti­va­tion of the power manage­ment func­tion (PM) on servers has already come into effect on 1 July 2019. We believe that this ‘eco-mode’ can yield signif­i­cant energy savings. At the same time, I think that as a result of the measure, the eco button has only been turned on on few servers. In any case, this new measure­ment method demon­strates the poten­tial for energy savings and thus provides data center managers and IT users with more insight into their energy consump­tion. Call it the ‘smart meter’ of the data centers.

Energy management

But how much energy savings is that? At least a lot. But how much? I don’t know. How do we find out? Do the stake­hold­ers want to know, or are there other inter­ests at play? In any case, the climate discus­sion has accel­er­ated things and put energy manage­ment (higher) on the agenda.

But are we really doing energy manage­ment? I don’t think so. We know that server capac­ity and perfor­mance has increased much more than energy consump­tion, but we also see that energy consump­tion itself has not decreased. In any case, we see in the figures that every­one expects that the energy consump­tion of IT will continue to grow. Certainly not at the rate of IT perfor­mance growth, but still… How much it contin­ues to increase, I don’t know. What do you think?

Energy manage­ment is not possi­ble without knowing how many kW data centers use, without knowl­edge of the size of the under­ly­ing energy contracts, how many kW are gener­ated by wind, solar, alter­na­tive, et cetera. Energy effi­ciency and sustain­abil­ity are buzz­words and good for the image, but it is time to substan­ti­ate it with figures, reli­able ratios, coor­di­nated and certi­fied by inde­pen­dent institutions.

Transparency helps

How do we achieve this? In any case, by doing it together, together with the govern­ment, data centers and inter­est groups for data centers and ICT. In my opinion, the current ‘Recog­nised Measure’ of power manage­ment for servers does not lead to the desired result in the short term. It is new and concerns many batches and many devices. It calls for atten­tion to be paid to effi­ciency among people who are currently only judged on avail­abil­ity and conti­nu­ity. Enforce­ment of this measure is there­fore complex and unclear. In short, that takes time.

What is the solu­tion then? I would like to see a covenant between the parties, which stip­u­lates that monthly reports are made to the govern­ment. Server owners report the data and provide insight into the energy consump­tion and behav­ior of the servers. Rele­vant data has been present at the heart of IT equip­ment for many years. BIOS, ILO and other soft­ware keep track of this data. Data centers report their total energy consump­tion and the energy consump­tion consumed by the servers on a monthly basis. On the basis of this infor­ma­tion, the govern­ment can then make regu­la­tions. In consul­ta­tion with the inter­est groups for data centers and ICT users, they can use the infor­ma­tion for account­abil­ity to their stake­hold­ers and to society.

Ulti­mately, we must be able to test objec­tives against actual figures and analyze the impact of measures on the basis of reli­able figures. Other­wise it will remain a mush of numbers and fancy words with no tangi­ble results.

Bright spot: in the LEAP project of the Amster­dam Economic Board, a number of renowned compa­nies with a large ‘IT foot­print’ are working together in a pilot. By making consump­tion data from their equip­ment avail­able, insight is gained into poten­tial effi­ciency improve­ments. WCooliT and Certios partic­i­pate in LEAP with the DIC measure­ment method.

Trans­parency helps. The begin­ning is here.

Marco Verzijl

Marco Verzijl

Marco is ruim 15 jaar actief in de datacenterwereld. Van 2005 t/m 2012 bij KyotoCooling bij de ontwikkeling van het Kyotowiel. In 2013 heeft Marco samen met Mees Lodder WCooliT opgericht. WCooliT levert producten en diensten voor het efficiënte datacenter, o.a. op het gebied van fysieke scheiding, turn-key modulair datacenter en 24x7-monitoring.


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