Data centers, accusations and the fallout

Data centers, accusations and the fallout

In a series of articles this week, the New York Times refused to pull punches in exposing the dirty secrets of the data center industry as wasteful power users who violate air quality laws and strong-arm overmatched small towns with their might and influence.

There's been no shortage of backlash from tech pundits. To highlight a few, here are responses from: Wired, Slate, Triple Pundit, Slashdot, Datacenter Knowledge and even a 5000-word treatise from Diego Doval.

Microsoft has countered saying the article fails to "recognize that not all data centers are created equal, nor are the operations and software applications running inside those data centers equally utilized."

GigaOm's Katie Fehrenbacher suggests the reporting is "from a time machine" and Dan Woods from Forbes called the series a "sloppy failure." He notes that while the series names Amazon, Facebook and Google, many of the numbers it cites actually come from "IT data centers, not from the state-of-the-art-data centers run by the Internet companies."

Our own contributor Kathrin Winkler with EMC writes about how the articles neglect to mention what the data center industry is doing to be more efficient. She says "if the auto industry had gotten efficient as quickly as the IT industry in the last 40 years, we'd be getting 450,000 miles to the gallon."

Given the prominent spotlight, we thought it appropriate to run through recent GreenBiz coverage on data centers, cloud computing and energy efficiency. 

Google, to be sure, is leading the way in investing in clean energy and touting its strategies for highly efficient data center operations.

For its part, Facebook, unveiled data center secrets with a major new initiative designed to share server and data center designs with rivals. The Open Compute Project, dedicated to building the "most efficient computing infrastructures at the lowest possible cost," releases open hardware data from a new center in Oregon, which the company says uses 38 percent less power than existing server farms.

The Facebook facility in Oregon earned LEED certifications, as did a Yahoo site in Nebraska and a sprawling 990,000-square-foot site for a QTS data center in Atlanta, considered the second largest data center in the world.

Electric night photo by Bruce Rolff via Shutterstock

As noted in the Times articles, sourcing energy for data centers can be critical for businesses, and some large data center operators are exploring new ways to provide onsite electricity generation.

Through a partnership with Bloom Energy, eBay recently unveiled plans for building fuel cell technology into data center design to deliver six megawatts of electricity for its Utah facilities.

Earlier this year in Phoenix, eBay launched Project Mercury consolidating equipment and taking advantage of free cooling. With guidance from The Green Grid on best practices for energy efficient and adaptable data centers, the project consolidated 11 centers into three locations while deploying tens of thousands of servers in a six-month period.

And it's not just the high-tech darlings like Google, eBay or Facebook that are making strides to develop green IT operations.

Vantage Data Centers in Santa Clara, Calif. took over an old, 18-acre Intel campus and turned it into a model of efficient data center operations. Taking a middle-ground approach with a scalable data center space, the company doesn't use cloud operations, deploying its own hardware and managing its own staff.

Design-software manufacturer Autodesk completed a major data center retrofit cutting its power consumption by 62 percent while saving $7 million annually in reduced energy and infrastructure costs, representing 15 percent of the IT budget.

The government, too, has got into the game of data center efficiencies. Not usually considered a nimble operation, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General announced plans to consolidate data centers into a single, energy efficient facility. Built in a scant 10 months, the relocated new facility will boast a new voice and data network, modular power systems and high density in-row cooling.

The U.S. Army also recently awarded its first cloud computing contract to several contractors (including MicroTech, Lockheed Martin Corp. and IBM) to help create its own private cloud. The five-year, $250 million contract will host virtual operating environments for new or existing applications and mobile data centers.

In a long-awaited specification update, the EPA's Energy Star program is rolling out a certification for servers that promises to help build the "green data center of the future."

And coming in the summer of 2013, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will use one of the world's most energy efficient data centers to handle complex renewable energy and energy efficiency research. NREL's High Performance Computer center is the largest supercomputer dedicated to clean energy research, using 3,200 powerful Intel Xeon microprocessors to crunch more than a thousand trillion floating point operations per second.

Small and medium-sized data center operators can also find ways to become highly efficient while reducing costs with these three essential rules. We found that understanding key energy management practices, such as determining the scope of the problem and setting practical limits, can help contain costs and align corporate IT and facilities.

At its Rio Rancho facility in New Mexico, Intel has come up with a novel way to cooling data centers by dunking them in oil and keeping them there. After some testing, the company is convinced it's a viable option as the mineral oil's cooling effect improves energy efficiency and server performance, and reduces energy costs.

Another nontraditional approach for data center cooling is found by recycling seawater as a means to amplify energy savings. Interxion touts the benefits of using the same seawater to cool two data centers and help heat neighboring homes and businesses.

The explosion of data centers can also put a strain on community relations. But strategic partnerships and collaboration early on in the data center siting process can help better engage communities. This article gives a nod to Duke Energy's Envision Charlotte project, which connects local business leaders with technological and municipal resources to "demonstrate Charlotte's national leadership as a sustainable, progressive, cost-efficient place to do business."

Clearly, we've seen dramatic changes in recent years on the way data centers can be designed and operated. It'll be interesting to see what the coming months bring in the evolution of new data center technology and the inevitable march towards cloud computing.