Copenhagen Countdown - Data Centres

Is Australia’s ‘Green Era’ about to begin in earnest?

Data centres need to become centres of excellence in delivering cost effective computing power, says IBRS advisor, James Turner.

We’ve all seen the statistics about the global growth of data. We’ve seen Australian home broadband penetration rates. And right now, we are watching the ascendency of smartphones and netbooks. The people want to go online, they want content, they want to interact with each other, they want to play and they want to use the Internet at home for the things we won’t let them do at work. That’s the demand side of the equation and it is most definitely increasing.

On the supply side of the equation, the servers we have are escalating in computing power, but take up the same space (or less) than those from even five years ago. This means that that the power-density of kit has increased. This increase in power-density is also accompanied by an equivalent rise in the need for cooling. Our data centres are stuffed full of hot, hungry, hardware. McKinsey claim that data centres typically account for 25 per cent of an IT department’s budget, and that the cost of running data centres is increasing at 20 per cent per year. Obviously, these trends cannot continue because energy is becoming increasingly expensive. That’s the supply side of the equation.

So, how are we going to meet the increasing demand for computing and network connectivity, in the face of rising energy costs?

Our data centres are stuffed full of hot, hungry, hardware

The answer is that data centres need to become centres of excellence in delivering cost effective computing power. I can say ‘cost effective’ instead of “energy efficient” in that sentence because, with rising energy costs and some form of emissions trading on its way, they will come to mean the same thing.

But this raises another question - what's going to happen to data centres in Australia when the NBN starts rolling out? There will be a substantial requirement for data centres as part of the supporting infrastructure. But there will also be a second wave of demand for data centres when people start using the increased capacity they get from fibre connectivity. The demand for data centres is only going to increase.

We’re at a crossroads right now. We can see the swelling demand for data centres, and we know that carbon emissions are already carrying a cost, whether we peg it to a dollar value, or not. We have an opportunity to start developing and delivering data centres which are innovative and have a small carbon footprint. If we’re clever about this we could export our technology and expertise to the rest of the world: Only a quarter of the world’s population is yet online. The demand for data centres is only going to increase.

Why would we massively increase the number of data centres in Australia without explicit planning for extreme energy efficiency? Sure, it will absolutely have upfront costs. But it would be a gross failure of governance to not take this seriously. There’s just too much money to be made in saving the planet for us to ignore this opportunity. The demand for data centres is only going to increase.

James Turner is an advisor for analyst firm, IBRS.

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