Is 'Green' Turning Brown?
The “green” movement has been going on for over a decade with many great successes. Thousands of LEED-accredited professionals are working every day to make buildings more energy efficient. Landlords are seeing improved returns, and tenants are seeing lower operating costs on LEED-certified facilities. Even further, this movement has grown to include the realms of sustainability and carbon footprinting. These are all good developments for the planet and organizations looking to meet corporate CSR (corporate social responsibilities) objectives.
Technology, as a industry, however, has come late to the party and has seen only sporadic success becoming green. Yes, we read about all the successful implementations of virtualization, cloud computing, airside and waterside economizers along with hot/cold aisle containment systems, but these appear to add up to only a drop in the bucket as many owners/operators continue to approach green as added cost or additional risk. The successes have primarily been by those select companies that are on technology’s leading edge, the few who want to be leaders and make a difference.
For the vast majority of companies, including most small-to-medium-sized businesses, making green choices means doing things differently then they have in the past, which owners/operators perceive as risky. Designers and contractors with limited experience and poor definitions of the new solutions make it seem as though green choices are more costly. Both groups have limited, if any, experience with the new technology and solutions, so they turn to old habits: “If I need 20 tons of air conditioning, then 60 tons is better” and “If it costs “x” to meet the client needs, then adding green must be “x+y.”
Reaching consensus on what constitutes a green data center continues to be difficult. We have yet to have a LEED standard for data centers. After much government prodding we are just starting to focus on PUE as a measurement tool, but many lack the necessary measuring tools in-place for even that simple metric.
Back in the 1990s, the industry started doing hot aisle/cold aisle designs, yet today the message still has not reached many mainstream owners/operators. Even the most basic green solutions like installing blanking panels and sealing holes in the raised floor continue to see low implementation rates.
In addition, achieving industry consensus allowed ASHRAE to raise the recommended temperature range in data centers, allowing for chilled water temperatures to be raised and humidification requirements to be lowered These are also proven green practices for energy, but their implementation across the industry has been slow at best. I continue to see data centers running at 45 degree chilled water with 50 percent humidification. Worse yet, I continue to see RFPs with these values specified.
On the IT side, data centers are even beginning to lose the energy benefits gained from virtualization and cloud computing, as the management tools for these systems are still far from mature. These processes, which contribute so much to server efficiency, also make it so easy to provision a new server that many mid-level companies are experiencing significant server sprawl because of a lack of robust management policies.
It seems that the old saying “the more you have the more you want” was never more true than when it is applied to technology, and even virtualization and cloud computing strategies reach a limit where more energy consuming hardware must be added. Price points are so low that it is hard to keep a focus on anything other than meeting business needs.
These technical situations constitute barriers to pushing green activities in data centers. Furthermore with capital still tight, there seems to be a growing trend to addressing only the immediate business process. Green can be included, but there is no budget and risk avoidance is reaching ridiculous levels. Gilbane is seeing more and more clients that want to follow the LEED and sustainability practices but not spend extra for them or for the certifications. With these attitudes, the design and construction focus rapidly turns away from green and to budget and schedule.
Recently, a prospective client looking to double the size of a 5,000-square-foot (sq ft) data center to support blade technology and upgrade from Tier I to Tier III or IV also insisted that the design only use DX cooling and extend their 12-in. raised floor, assuming that they could just add a few electrical panels (classic – they were already at 96 percent of their service capacity). Because they had an existing operation they thought that it should only take 5 months and cost less than $500/sq ft. When we started discussing green, they said, “We need this fast and at low cost.” Without having a designer involved, they had already decided that they would do DX cooling and a 12-in. raised floor (what they know) and add panels to the existing electrical service (what they didn’t know).
For the small-to-medium data centers this represents a 180 degree change from a year ago when the first question was often: “How much energy can we save by building the greenest operation?”
There are many more green solutions in the pipeline in the form of direct water-cooled processing, solar power/cooling, processor/storage enhancements. and more. Will we have to wait 10 years before they are widely implemented?
In the end, what’s it going to take to keep the entire industry focused on green, not just the more sophisticated owners/operators? How do we get the message across to people who may do one to two data centers in their careers that green is less costly and that green is less risky than what they are doing today? And finally, how do we get faster acceptance of the existing and pending new green technologies.
Don’t let our desire for green be scorched by the summer’s (economic) heat?