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Show me the figures

Date: 30th April 2010
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Original article written Jessica Twentyman and published on Sourcing Focus.com:http://www.sourcingfocus.com/index.php/site/featuresitem/2329/

In the race to deliver ‘green outsourcing’, are providers doing enough show customers robust evidence of their green credentials? The answer, according to the 2009 Green Outsourcing Survey from Black Book Research, is a resounding ‘No’.

“The outsourcing industry is saturated with “green speak”, of which the majority is deemed [to be] just hype by user CIOs and vendor sales people,” say the report’s authors. “Both vendors and users continue in a stage of confusion about where and when they should invest their time and money.”

One metric that is starting to play a part in discussions between providers and prospective customers is Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). First proposed by The Green Grid, an industry forum of IT vendors and end-user customers, back in 2007, PUE is today a widely accepted form of measuring data-centre efficiency. In April 2010, it was announced that government agencies in the US, Europe and Japan are all planning to adopt and use PUE.

A PUE calculation analyses the relationship between ‘Total Facility Power’ (TFP) and ‘IT Equipment Power’ (IEP). By dividing TFP (the energy consumed by power components, cooling elements and other infrastructure such as lighting) by IEP (the energy that powers servers, storage devices and networking equipment), IT teams arrive at their facility’s PUE score. A PUE score of 3, for example, indicates that data centre energy consumption is three times greater than the energy necessary to power its IT equipment. Ideally, PUE should be less than 2 to 1; the closer to 1 to 1, the better.

PUE is a useful benchmarking tool for measuring and monitoring efficiency improvements in an individual facility, says Andy Hayes, Associate Director at Keysource, a company that designs and builds new, energy-efficient data centres and improves existing ones to optimise their energy consumption. Energy assessments, based on calculating PUE, have played an increasingly important part in engagements in recent years, he says, as the cost of electricity has risen. In a recent data centre project for Yorkshire Water, for example, Keysource calculated the PUE score for the company’s facility to be 2.3. In other words, only 43 percent of the total facility power was being used to power IT equipment. After incorporating Keysource’s recommendations for better cooling and airflow management, the PUE score had improved to 1.7 – meaning that 59 percent of TFP is now consumed by IT. That improvement in PUE score also resulted in a potential annual saving of up to £70,000 per year.

But PUE is far from ideal as a means for outsourcing customers to compare one data centre facility to another, says Daniel Lowe, managing director of managed hosting company UKSolutions. “A highly available infrastructure is typically going to have a poorer PUE because of the overheads involved in building in resilience, but that supplier may offer better uptime guarantees to its customers,” he argues. That’s not to say that UKSOlutions isn’t interested in making its facilities as energy-efficient as possible – the company has already done much work on cold-aisle containment, using blanking panels to fill gaps between machines, and repositioning cables to keep them cool, he says. But he just doesn’t see PUE scores as an effective way for the company to market itself as ‘green’.

Perhaps a more blended approach is needed? Glenn Fitzgerald, lead architect and data centre expert at Fujitsu, certainly thinks so. Fitzgerald was a key figure in the development, design and building of the new Fujitsu data centre London , which opened in 2008 in Stevenage. Its PUE rating is 1.6 when fully loaded compared, but it is also the first in Europe to be independently certified to the Uptime Institute’s international data centre Tier 3 standard, which measures availability as well. “Resilience and energy efficiency are equally important dimensions of data-centre quality for our customers, which is why we ensure we can provide good measurements in both areas,” says Fitzgerald. Once London North reaches its full capacity, he says, Fujitsu is planning a new data centre that uses wind and wave power alongside National Grid power.

Even representatives of the Green Grid advise against relying on PUE as a means to compare the efficiency of one data-centre facililty against that of another. “It’s a relational metric,” explains Vic Smith, chairman of the Green Grid’s EMEA Technical Working Group. “It provides a way for companies to measure their own progress in using energy more efficiently, to map their journey between a PUE of X to a PUE of Y, but not to compare facilities. That’s not how it was ever intended to be used.”

Sourcingfocus.com’s advice to would-be outsourcing clients? Ask your IT outsourcing provider about what PUE score they achieve in their data centre facilities – it can’t hurt and it will show them that you’re in touch with Green IT issues. Ask them what measures they’ve taken to improve their score and the results they’ve seen as a result.

But also ask them for stats on reliability and availability, too. After all, few companies are so environmentally-friendly that they’re ready to sacrifice the resilience of vital business processes on the altar of meeting carbon reduction targets.

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