New instrument to end energy waste data centers

The energy consump­tion of data centers will increase in the coming years — with the increase in data use — espe­cially after the intro­duc­tion of the 5G network. Fortu­nately, there is still a lot of room for data centers to save energy, because they use a lot of energy when idle. Measures can be taken for this, but data centers prefer not to take them because they are judged on their perfor­mance. A new instru­ment measures the so-called Data Center Idle Coef­fi­cient (DIC). This makes energy waste measur­able and visible in data centers. Ulti­mately, this can save 40% energy in data centers. That is about 1% of the total Dutch power consumption.

There are hundreds of data centers in the Nether­lands. Accord­ing to research by Certios, these together consumed 2.8 TWh of elec­tric­ity in 2017. “IT is like a small child: 10% of the food ends up in the stomach, the rest ends up in the face or on the floor. It is a young indus­try that is still expe­ri­enc­ing growing pains. Let’s help that sector to mature.”

With this metaphor, Mees Lodder, CEO of WCooliT, describes the enor­mous energy consump­tion of data centers and large computer rooms of compa­nies and the oppor­tu­ni­ties that exist for energy saving. He discov­ered a few years ago that, contrary to expec­ta­tions, data center power consump­tion hardly varies. “You would think that data centers consume a lot of power during the day and less during the weekend and in the evening, but there is hardly any vari­a­tion in energy consump­tion. It is a flat line with a maximum devi­a­tion of 3%.”

In search of answers, he got into a conver­sa­tion with IT special­ist Dirk Harry­van of Certios. He was able to help Lodder with the ques­tions he had about the flat­line in the energy consump­tion of data centers. “He told me that in the first place comput­ers are often in an ‘idle’ mode. They may be active, but waiting for work. There are all kinds of features to use less power in this mode, for example by lower­ing the CPU clock speed, but 80% of compa­nies do not use these options. Second, he said comput­ers are in idle mode 70 to 80% of the time.”

Inactive state

Lodder was shocked by this knowl­edge. “It means that IT hard­ware consumes more power in an idle state than in an active state. That is the same as having a car in front of the door, whose tank is empty when you want to leave in the morning, because it has already used all its fuel during the night when inac­tive. But this flag does not apply to data centers, because there is no limi­ta­tion in the energy supply.”

Looking for knowl­edge about this problem, Lodder discov­ered that 1000 kW goes into a data center and then only 1 kW comes out via 100 fiber optic cables of 10 watts each. “The other 999 kW is lost as heat, which is why so much cooling is needed. If you were to convert that, that means an effi­ciency of 0.1%. While we have just abol­ished the light bulb. At least it still had an effi­ciency of 10%.”

Data centers are there­fore inac­tive a large part of the time, while they consume power as if they are contin­u­ously working hard. Accord­ing to Lodder, data centers have capa­bil­i­ties to limit power consump­tion in this idle state, but they don’t use it. “They don’t turn on the power manage­ment buttons. Why that is? They are afraid that perfor­mance will dete­ri­o­rate and that is what they will be judged on.”

More insight

To gain more insight into the idle percent­age of Dutch data centers, Lodder and Harry­van devised the Data­cen­ter Idle Coef­fi­cient (DIC). This measure shows how effi­ciently a data center uses its energy. The higher the DIC, the more effi­cient the data center’s energy consump­tion, says Lodder. “We would like to see every data center in the Nether­lands make a DIC that is read­able. If we add up all the DICs, we can then calcu­late a weighted average. With that in mind, data centers will have to account for their DICs. In this way, data centers provide insight into their power consump­tion.” In the long run, the DIC must be rolled out in Europe, so that the same stan­dards for data centers apply through­out Europe, believes Lodder.

Saving potential

The savings poten­tial of data centers is not small, espe­cially when you look at the large scale. About 2.5% of Dutch elec­tric­ity consump­tion goes to data centers. So it is a lot of money. But the IT sector doesn’t care about that, Lodder notes. “It is certainly a lot of money, but the elec­tric­ity costs are not signif­i­cant on the entire cost price of ICT. They are busy enough with other things than worry­ing about energy consump­tion. More­over, it is all green energy, so they think it is fine.”

Energy savings there­fore yield rela­tively little for data centers, and they also pass on the price they pay for elec­tric­ity to their customers. They are not both­ered much by the high energy consump­tion and there is no incen­tive for them to put energy saving on the agenda. That is a pity, accord­ing to Lodder, but very humane. “It is one of the main reasons why nothing is being done about the energy consump­tion of data centers.”

But the poten­tial is great, he reckons. “This concerns 450 million euros in elec­tric­ity costs per year, which are passed on to customers. While compa­nies can easily reduce the idle percent­age by turning on buttons. If you look at data center inac­tiv­ity, I think 40% energy savings are possi­ble in the long run. Then you are talking about 1% of the Dutch power consump­tion in poten­tial that we are currently ignoring.”

Power management

Accord­ing to Lodder, the high energy consump­tion of data centers largely takes place out of sight of many people. “It is well known that data centers consume a lot of energy, but it is actu­ally not known that it can be done so much more effi­ciently. But it is of course socially strange that so much energy is wasted.”


The govern­ment and compa­nies have been working together for years to reduce energy consump­tion at data centers. For example, the GreenServe project of the Nether­lands Enter­prise Agency shows that power manage­ment and virtu­al­iza­tion can lead to lower energy consump­tion. But in prac­tice, these measures are rarely applied, says Lodder. “A package of measures has been devised through sector orga­ni­za­tions to help the market with energy savings. In prac­tice, however, the compe­tent author­ity has hardly any possi­bil­i­ties to check whether these measures are actu­ally taken.”

Energy label

Although it is not that far yet, Lodder has high hopes for a possi­ble intro­duc­tion of the DIC. “I expect that if you quan­tify it this way, customers will also start asking about the DIC. It then becomes a kind of energy label for data centers. For example, it could become a way of compet­ing, as an extra service for customers. This makes it easier to compare the perfor­mance of differ­ent data centers.”

If the DICs of all data centers are known, it is also possi­ble to tighten the require­ments for data centers. “It is much better to address data centers about their energy consump­tion. It becomes a topic of conver­sa­tion in this way.” Accord­ing to Lodder, the govern­ment will play an impor­tant role in devel­op­ing regu­la­tions around the DIC. “Data centers and their customers will initially not feel like it. There­fore, it must be devel­oped centrally. You have to find out what works and what doesn’t. The DIC must then be entered manda­to­rily. After that, you can start making demands as a govern­ment. For example: we no longer accept a DIC of 2, that must be at least 4. I think it’s the only way to force IT to be more energy efficient.”

Adjust behavior

Lodder likens enter­ing the DIC to a speedome­ter. “If a car doesn’t have a speedome­ter, nobody is speed­ing. But if a motorist is aware of his speed, 490 out of 500 cars will stick to the speed limit and the rest risk a fine. I expect it will be the same with the intro­duc­tion of the DIC. Not every­one will care, but the vast major­ity want to abide by the rules and will use the tools to imple­ment power management.”

The goal behind the DIC is there­fore not to throw as many compa­nies as possi­ble on the receipt, he explains. “Compa­nies have to change their behav­iour. Now there is no incen­tive what­so­ever for data centers to save energy. If the DIC is intro­duced as an instru­ment, the govern­ment can build in such incentives.”

The aim is there­fore by no means to bully data centers, Lodder would like to empha­size. “It just doesn’t come natu­rally. They will thank us later. Data usage will increase in the future. If we start today with limit­ing energy consump­tion and espe­cially more effi­cient use of data centers, it does not have to be so painful. But it is impor­tant to give compa­nies time and space so that they can do it step-by-step.”

More infor­ma­tion: https://​bit​.ly/​2​V​Sv5dO

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