New Framework Provides Transparent Carbon Tracking for Data Centers

A global consortium of IT organizations called the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) is promoting an open and standard approach for measuring the carbon footprint of services provided from the cloud.

The consortium earlier this week released a proof of concept (PoC) paper detailing the benefits of the ODCA Carbon Footprint and Energy Efficiency Usage Model.

"The ODCA Carbon and Energy Efficiency PoC released today is a valuable resource for any organization looking to measure and reduce CO2 emissions across the entire cloud ecosystem and an important document for helping enterprises meet government energy efficiency mandates and corporate sustainability goals," Marvin Wheeler, ODCA executive director, said in a press release.

Data centers worldwide consumed 201.8 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2010 and energy expenditures reached $23.3 billion, according to the ODCA. That's enough electricity to power 19 million average U.S. households.

The PoC examines testing scenarios, outcomes and benefits achieved by measuring the carbon footprint of cloud IT operations from the perspectives of a data center operator (Verne Global), a cloud service provider (Datapipe), and a consumer of cloud services (BMW).

From the standpoint of the customer, in this case BMW, "the proof-of-concept testing confirmed that equitable comparisons of an enterprise's carbon footprint can be successfully obtained at a cloud subscriber level," said Susanne Obermeier, BMW's global data center manager. "The documented techniques and approach in the ODCA carbon footprint PoC should provide a valuable framework for other organizations to track, measure, and report the carbon emissions linked to their data center activities."

The model is quite comprehensive, factoring in not only power generation sources and generation losses, but also data center overhead, as well as embedded carbon in the manufacture and delivery of the equipment used as well as its decommissioning and disposal.

"There is no doubt that information technology is stimulating business growth, and sustaining this growth requires more data centers and more power," said Tate Cantrell, CTO at Verne Global. "With 80 percent of the world's energy still being produced by fossil fuels, and data centers approaching a consumption of 2 percent of the world's power sources, it is not only important for companies to improve their focus on energy efficiency, but also to implement strategies that lower their data center carbon footprint."

The study concluded with the following recommendations.

  • Select a "green" data center operator that sources power from a verified low-carbon energy sources.
  • Choose efficient data centers and cloud providers working together to lower PUE values and continuously moving toward enhanced energy efficiency.
  • Require real-time carbon data from utilities (rather than annualized information received after the fact), as well as information on the sources of energy and how it is produced, to provide a more accurate picture to purchasers and consumers of the carbon footprint of cloud services.
  • Establish standards that provide a meaningful comparison of service providers. This approach includes consistently defining the capacity and workloads being purchased and how long these workloads are using the cloud service.
  • Minimize dedicated hardware use. Use shared servers and storage wherever possible, and consolidate applications in a finely tuned virtualized environment for the most efficient server use.
  • Develop "tight" code and minimize storage requirements. Reducing compute cycles and lowering storage needs minimizes energy use by as much as 40 percent, according to a study conducted by HP and the Rocky Mountain Institute.
  • Establish optimized business such as eBay's Digital Service Efficiency methodology
  • Select equipment that is more efficient, giving more performance for the power consumed
  • Manage equipment more efficiently; for example, switching it off when it is not being actively used (from "always on" to "always available").
  • Understand that embedded carbon is also necessary to obtain a complete picture of the carbon footprint of an enterprise.

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