Yes, Yahoo! has the right to protect its intellectual property, but in doing so, it perpetuates the larger culture of secrecy that has impeded development and adoption of energy-saving data center strategies that would benefit us all. Should Yahoo! prevail in its action and Facebook be punished, the chill on open source activities would be profound. In fact, it would be hard to see any company sharing so widely, after watching Facebook get slapped.
Critics of the Uptime Institute and the Green Grid note that these groups—and others like them—collect a great deal of information from member companies and share it sparingly with others. Vendors, of course, also have a lot of data about the performance of data centers that does not generally see the light of day. These proprietary collections of data reflect the industry’s fetish for secrecy and not any moral failing on those who collect the data. In fact, we should be grateful for these data sets. Yes, they are proprietary and expensive, but that is because the data are so hard to collect that mere possession of them is a value.
In short, the data center as fight club analogy serves everyone poorly.
More’s the pity too, as the veil of secrecy is doomed. The public and government regulators will soon be entering Oz, and they will be wondering what competitive advantage low PUEs confer on competitive enterprises. Greenpeace’s efforts to target bad actors in the industry represent just the camel’s nose. Others will follow.
Put bluntly, if Yahoo! is trailing Google in search, it is not because its data center cooling strategy lags Google’s. And so it goes in industry after industry. The regulation that I expect will follow the public’s growing interest in how data centers use energy will shred the veil of secrecy that so many business treasure, I think mostly as a way to avoid accountability.
I would only hope that a new round of regulations would preserve the ability of companies to protect trade secrets where they do compete. Google’s search algorithms and advertising programs do seem to distinguish the company from its competitors in terms of audience size and revenue, for instance.
I would argue that more transparency would benefit the whole industry in its efforts to reduce costs and wasted energy. Gaining a measure of transparency has enabled the development of Energy Star for data centers, PUE, and the Open Compute Initiative.
Yet the secrecy has impeded development of standards, licensing, advanced and specialized education, independent testing, peer-reviewed literature, and academic research common in other fields. These time-tested methods of advancing technology and practice require way more transparency than fight club rules allow.