Time to power down

Despite data centres heating up as their electricity demands skyrocket, Hong Kong enterprises may find it difficult to implement “green” initiatives.

In a research note published November 2006, research firm Gartner predicts that traditional data centres waste more than 60 per cent of the energy they use to just cool equipment. The research firm also forecasts that half the world’s data centres lack the energy capacity to meet the power and cooling requirements of new high-density computing equipment by end-2008.

Lack of standards: red flag

The lack of energy-efficient labels for data centre products is one of the major barriers to green adoption. “It would help if Hong Kong’s EMSD [the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department] extends its energy-efficiency labeling scheme to datacenter-grade equipment,” said Franklin Lau, deputy general manager, Group Information Technology Services, CITIC Pacific.

At present, EMSD’s labeling scheme covers 17 types of products, but only six of them are office-use tools: photocopiers, multifunction devices, laser printers, LCD monitors, computers and fax machines. The scheme is on a voluntary basis only, meaning manufacturers can choose whether they want to provide information about a product’s energy efficiency.

The government proposes to introduce a mandatory energy efficiency labeling scheme, but no data centre gear will be included in the initial phase. According to the EMSD website, the department will include three products: room air conditioners, refrigerating appliances and compact fluorescent lamps initially.

The Energy Star program in the U.S. (another voluntary energy-efficient labeling initiative for electrical goods which started in 1992) doesn’t cover datacenter equipment yet. But the U.S. government’s Environmental Protection Agency is currently working with the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories to study ways to promote the use of energy-efficient servers. A specification could be in place later this year. The absence of standards today is equally a hurdle, leaving corporations no objective ways to compare energy efficiency of different products. Currently, many vendors (including HP, IBM and Intel) report some energy efficiency figures, but these aren’t directly comparable due to differences in workload, configuration, and test environment, according to a statement by Standard Performance Evaluation (SPEC), a U.S. non-profit corporation formed to develop a standardized set of relevant benchmarks for high-performance computers. The organization is working on a performance-per-watt benchmark for servers slated for release later this year.

Another force working for change is the non-profit, vendor-neutral Green Grid Consortium, which seeks to establish standards for energy consumption in the data centere. Its members include AMD, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Sun, and EMC.

The green curve

A corporation can’t force its data centre to become more efficient overnight, especially as facilities are built to last for 10-20 years.

According to Michael Sham, service product line manager, Integrated Communications Services and Site and Facilities Services, IBM China/Hong Kong, about 70 percent of Hong Kong’s data centres were built before 2001. These facilities weren’t built to accommodate newer equipment like blade servers.

“The amount of power needed to cool blade servers is triple that of older servers,” said Tony Leung, director, Intel Solution Services, North Asia. “Sometimes it’s impossible to improve cooling at older datacenters, and some companies just add fans.”

Building a new data centre is a solution to the cooling problem, but firms must plan ahead. “If a company wants to build a new datacenter in 2012, it must start planning now,” said Leung. “For an optimal design, you plan for the capacity of the next 10 years.”

Management buy-in

Another challenge in establishing a new and green data centre is support from senior management. This endorsement is crucial because data centres are strategic and long-lasting, according to Leung.

A related management buy-in issue is ROI, which IT heads must specify to management when proposing any datacenter build-out. Forrester Research’s senior VP Chris Mines said ROI estimates are indirect at best. Mines said that many of a green data centre’s benefits-corporate citizen image and brand improvement-are hard to quantify and plug into an ROI figure.

Business management executives should be involved in the planning process. Chun Lauener, senior vice-president and president for Greater China at APC/MGE said: “[Management executives] have the greatest sense of which business requirements should be supported by the datacenter.” She added that these executives should submit key business plans including planned growth and focus areas.

Lauener also stressed the importance of financial managers, who should provide estimates of a firm’s growth in the coming years, plus a sense of budget for building and maintaining IT infrastructure. olution proposals to local customers since Q3 last year,” said Botes. “Hong Kong isn’t backward in this area.”