Green rush coming for data centres

The coming carbon tax and how it stands to improve data centre efficiencies

As a famous frog once said, “it’s not that easy being green”. Like Kermit, data centres owners and users will have to learn to love it or lump it if the Federal Government’s carbon tax proposal goes ahead within the next two years.

The plan to impose a carbon tax from 1 July, 2012, will increase electricity prices by up to $300 a year per household, according to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, so if extrapolating that increase to the cost of running a data centre isn’t enough to turn IT managers Green, then nothing will.

Gartner Australia is one of many organisations to have seen the writing on the wall. The analyst firm’s research vicepresident, Phil Sargeant, says that a carbon tax will lead to more efficient data centres based on environmental principles, rather than the cost benefits that have driven Green IT to date.

“With regards to Green IT, I just don’t think there has been enough government pressure brought to bear in data centres,” he says. “If you look at a data centre and the energy used, half of that energy is being used by the equipment itself.”

A survey from the firm as recent as December found that cost savings, not Green IT, were a far higher driver of IT initiatives. In the data centre space, cost drove consolidation programs and virtualisation was viewed as the primary means to achieve this. Now, with a carbon tax on the cards and focus shifting to energy consumption, Sargeant says a consumer appliance-like star rating on energy efficiency could become a reality and guide procurement decisions. In fact, energy ratings could become the differentiator that clinches new business.

“If a buyer sees that one vendor’s storage is more energy efficient than the other and they’re mindful of the carbon tax, it will be a no-brainer,” he says. Sargeant believes data centre managers and organisations will be forced to look at energy management in a way they haven’t in the past, such as installing energy management systems to control power and cooling and cut power requirements. Data centres will also move to use new hardware that is capable of running in warmer air.

“I’ve visited some data centres in Australia and they are very cold,” he says. “Data centres can now accommodate higher temperatures and the offset is you don’t have to use as much air conditioning.”

A carbon tax will also likely accelerate the use of different forms of cooling which are not only more efficient but can be zero cost. For example, taking advantage of cooler air outside the data centre to decrease the use of air conditioning.

Looking to the future, Sargeant believes data centres are going to look very different once the carbon tax passes, with more efficient equipment and smaller centres.

“You walk into a typical data centre now and many are huge, the size of football fields,” he says. “I believe consolidation and colocation, where many companies host data in one centre, will increase.”

For example, the New South Wales government is planning to acquire capacity in two dedicated data centres in Sydney and the Illawara to house the computer systems from 130 existing decentralised government agency data centres throughout NSW. The project is expected to take 20 years to complete.

One NSW government department that is well down the path of data centre consolidation and virtualisation, and is watching the carbon tax proposal with interest, is Environment, Climate Change and Water.

Information management and communications technology branch data centre manager, Andrew McEachern, says that the department is halfway through its virtualisation program and is “very keen” to run as few data centres as possible. It runs three data centres but wants to consolidate this down to two. A data centre in Hurstville, NSW, will be closed this year.

On the carbon tax, McEachern says he is taking “a wait and see” approach to examine what the NSW government will do in the future. In the meantime, he will continue to reduce power consumption and move ahead with the consolidation program.

Vocus general manager data centres, Jon Eaves, says despite the surprise re-emergence of the spectre of a carbon tax, data centre providers had factored in the prospect of a Green tariff for some time.

“A carbon tax has been talked about for three years now, and if it hits the data centre area or if it hits normal carbon emissions — power stations, then moving down the food chain — it will have a dramatic effect on our industry,” he says.

“A lot of the older facilities which have generation one data centre capabilities will find their customers leaving for generation three data centres, which have greener functionality.”

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