I hear the sound of tectonic plates shifting in the computing world. In the last few weeks, we have seen some interesting alliances being formed. Imagine vendor-based groups forming alliances with customer-based organizations. Can you picture mavericks from the social media collaborating with the belt-and-suspenders big business crowd? What’s next, cloud computing everywhere, yet the actual computing hardware never to be seen again by mere mortals? All hardware hidden away in far away hyper-scale data centers, whose operators will also become carbon-credit arbitrage traders?

As we move from “traditional” computing (a shifting term in itself) to virtualized and cloud computing, the old rules and norms seem to be dissolving rapidly.

What am I ranting about? At Cloud Computing Expo 2011 West in early November, The Green Grid (TGG), the IT and data center vendors’ leading voice for advancing resource efficiency in data centers and business computing ecosystems, and the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA), the leading end-user driven cloud requirements consortium, announced a strategic collaboration.

What are they going to focus their first efforts on? The carbon produced by cloud computing. What, you did not realize that cloud computing uses real energy and produces carbon just like “real” computing?

The ODCA and TGG effort brings together the leading customer voice on cloud computing and the global authority on resource efficient data centers and business computing ecosystems. The Open Data Center Alliance, a group of 300+ companies that represent over $100 billion in annual IT spend, recently published the first customer-driven requirements for the cloud with release of its initial usage models.

The Green Grid, which was launched in 2007, mainly by the major manufacturers of data center infrastructure equipment as well as computing hardware, is now a global consortium focused on driving resource efficiency in business computing by developing meaningful and user-centric metrics to help IT and facilities better manage their resources. Their first efforts resulted in the introduction of the power usage effectiveness “PUE” metric for data center physical infrastructure, which has now become PUE version 2, a globally accepted metric. In December 2010, TGG introduced the carbon usage effectiveness “CUE” metric, which is based again based on the physical data center.

Correlating how cloud computing corresponds to actual data center power usage is the key question at hand, and the initial focus of the collaboration. In an email interview, Mark Monroe, executive director, The Green Grid, said,  “The alliance between ODCA and The Green Grid will result in user-centric work focused on the efficiency of cloud computing in real world application scenarios. The strengths of the two organizations, when combined, cover the full spectrum of efficiency and operational excellence in the emerging field of cloud computing.”

From the TGG-ODCA press release:

“The Green Grid’s mission is to improve resource efficiency in business computing, which includes the impact of carbon usage as a result of cloud computing,” said Tim Mohin, AMD representative and Board member of The Green Grid. “The Green Grid’s efforts with the ODCA will bring much-needed efficiency metrics and resources to businesses that leverage the cloud. We’re excited to see the results of this collaboration put into action and the energy savings they will generate.”

 “Our strategic collaboration with The Green Grid will help us gain valuable insight into standard measurement of workload carbon emissions, enabling us to report and reduce the environmental impact of data center operations,” said Mario Mueller, vice president of IT Infrastructure at BMW. “Together, the ODCA and The Green Grid will drive initiatives that not only manage power efficiencies, but result in a reduced total cost of ownership. With member adoption of cloud operations forecasted to triple in the next two years, the collaboration comes at a critical point of adoption.”

ODCA was founded only last year by major global business customers, but highly focused on cloud computing. As the ODCA publicly stated, they collectively represent 100 billion dollars of purchasing power (which could bring new meaning to “Collective Bargaining”) and as we all know, money talks, especially in today’s economy.

So what about the sound of tectonic plates shifting? Well, surprisingly in late October the big business, financially conservative ODCA also announced that it was collaborating with the Open Compute Project “OCP”. OCP was formed as an offshoot of Facebook’s innovative, but maverick design of their Prineville OR data center, in which they entirely re-invented their center’s power and cooling infrastructure, as well as even building their own unique non-standard (i.e. 1.5U) servers and racks.

The Bottom Line

So the days of “standard” CRACs and racks may evolve as we move into the next generation of “hyperscale” computing, perhaps to be housed in mega-sized data centers with free air cooling (imagine servers that can tolerate using the same outside air as humans). These new designs may look radically different from today’s hot-aisle, cold-aisle data centers, which could make our current data centers seem as out of date as the old “legacy” mainframe glass house looks to us today.

The ODCA members are using their purchasing clout to influence equipment manufactures and are giving serious long-term commitments and bringing sustainably thinking to cloud based services. They are well aware that there will still have to be real computing hardware in data centers somewhere (using real energy with a related carbon footprint), and that ultimately there is no such thing as a free lunch.