Towards a covenant on energy consumption

On my latest arti­cles — see ‘Do we need a proto­col for data center energy?‘ an ‘Grip on numbers; Figures high­lighted; Figures…’ — I received a response from various orga­ni­za­tions and people. Thanks for that. In general, every­one agreed on the gist of the message: there must be more trans­parency and insight into the energy consump­tion of data centers. Every­one also agrees that the solu­tion must be sought in collab­o­ra­tion between all stake­hold­ers. However, there were also some points of crit­i­cism. These were mainly focused on the formu­las used and the use of data. And that’s exactly what it’s about for me.

I actu­ally write these arti­cles because I really try to under­stand the data. And I have to admit, it’s not easy. So much data is thrown into the world and also taken over indis­crim­i­nately, that I have the feeling of being present in a virtual world. The reality may well be different.

Definition issues

The illus­tra­tions in Figure 1 are from the latest DDA report published on June 9. This report — enti­tled ‘State of the Dutch Data Centers 2020’ — can be requested via the DDA site. Accord­ing to this report, 17.95 PJ is an energy consump­tion of 570 MW: 570 x 8,760 hours = 4,993,200 MWh = 17.95 PJ.

Figure 1. Some figures from the recent DDA report ‘State of the Dutch Data Centers 2020’.

What first strikes me in figure 1 are the terms (defi­n­i­tions) ‘elec­tric­ity use’ and the term ‘elec­tric­ity use based on capac­ity’. Appar­ently you can calcu­late the consump­tion of energy if you know the contrac­tual energy contracts. In other words, these are the energy contracts that data centers enter into with the energy suppliers.

In the webinar of the DDA follow­ing the publi­ca­tion of the report, an expla­na­tion was also given why this ‘elec­tric­ity use based on capac­ity’ is so much higher than the ‘elec­tric­ity use’. That’s because of the peak power.

The 35 percent question

After this comment, my imag­i­na­tion ran away with me a bit: what is meant by ‘peak power’? And where does that 35% in the DDA calcu­la­tion come from? How can I inter­pret this?

Does the DDA mean:

  • On the energy network is now a band­width of 65% upwards for the energy vari­a­tion in the data center?
  • Does the energy consump­tion in the data center fluc­tu­ate, with a safety margin of almost 200%?
  • What do they mean by “peak power”? Are backups suddenly made?

My expe­ri­ence is that the energy consump­tion has a vari­a­tion over the whole day of at most 5%. That is a band­width of +5% and ‑5% of the median. But no peaks of 50% or more. How are these peaks absorbed by the cooling and UPS? Can these handle that variation?

The 35% in the formula raises a number of ques­tions for me. Is it meant that:

  • 35% of the total energy (power) contracts are actu­ally consumed in terms of energy in the data center?
  • 35% of a server’s energy is used, the rest of the time is the machine idle?
  • 35% of the data center surface is occupied?
  • 35% of the number of racks is filled?
  • 35% of the total contract capital; don’t we have overcapacity?
  • 35%, is there actu­ally a short­age of energy in the Amster­dam region?
  • Or maybe some­thing completely different?


The big IT compa­nies like to talk in detail about climate protec­tion. They set goals for them­selves and publish exten­sive envi­ron­men­tal reports every year. They quan­tify their CO2 foot­print in the reports. They use their state­ments and under­ly­ing data to support their claim that they are CO2-neutral (or ‘carbon neutral’). The really big ICT compa­nies have been promot­ing this or have been adver­tis­ing about this since 2007.

This neutral­ity is achieved by purchas­ing green certifi­cates. However, these certifi­cates only prove that elec­tric­ity has been intro­duced some­where in the network by, for example, solar energy. They thereby shift the share of exist­ing renew­able energy to specific consumers who pay for it.

However, what data is this detailed infor­ma­tion based on and can we verify it? After all, energy consump­tion is linked to all kinds of targets, ranging from Euro­pean to national targets. Or objec­tives that are linked to a region and in some cases even to a subsidy.

In order to be able to monitor targets, we should be able to fall back on consult­ing a data­base in the Nether­lands — and also in Europe — in which we can compare apples with apples. I have the feeling that we are now at the mercy of what I call ’the issues of the day’. In other words, every­one uses the numbers as they see fit at the time.

Questions and answers

In various media and on inter­net forums you see ques­tions with bizarre answers. These are often derived from exist­ing infor­ma­tion and as a result you get nonsen­si­cal answers.

Ques­tions are for example:

  • In terms of CO2 use, is IT more harmful to the climate than, for example, aviation?
  • Does the use of online videos blow as much CO2 into the air as Spain?
  • How much energy does a Google search require?

Inter­est­ing ques­tions in them­selves, but due to the lack of good data it is almost impos­si­ble to give a well-informed answer. The result: answers that make no sense.

Data centers have become such an impor­tant part of our economy and digital world. Compared to other branches, they are young, but matured very quickly. This matu­rity also brings respon­si­bil­i­ties. As far as I’m concerned, collect­ing and moni­tor­ing the energy consump­tion of data centers and its users is a great step towards leaving puberty behind us and showing the respon­si­bil­ity that comes with this phase.

Transparency helps

How do we achieve this? In any case, by doing it together — together with the govern­ment, together with the data centers and together with the inter­est groups of data centers and ICT.

What is the solu­tion then? I would like to see a covenant between these 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 servers on a monthly basis. On the basis of this infor­ma­tion, the govern­ment can then make regu­la­tions, of course in consul­ta­tion with the inter­est groups. Data centers and ICT users can also use this infor­ma­tion for account­abil­ity to their stake­hold­ers and to society.

In the mean­time, a start is being made behind the scenes with all stake­hold­ers to get a better grip on the figures, energy figures that is. Trans­parency helps. The begin­ning is here. Now pack on.

Marco Verzijl has been active in the data center world for over 15 years. From 2005 to 2012 at Kyoto­Cool­ing in the devel­op­ment of the Kyoto wheel. In 2013 he founded WCooliT together with Mees Lodder. WCooliT provides prod­ucts and services for the effi­cient data center, includ­ing in the field of phys­i­cal sepa­ra­tion, turnkey modular data centers and 24x7 monitoring.

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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