Just in time for the next revolution in the world of information and communications technology, a Switzerland-based consortium has come up with a proven formula for drastically improving energy efficiency in data centers. That’s all well and good, but that same consortium warns that the next big wave of energy-gobbling activity will creep out of data centers and snake over to the area of “edge” computing, where on-site processors rule over factories, buildings, vehicles, and equipment.
Energy Efficiency & Decarbonization
First, the bad news. Although energy efficiency is often referred to as the “low hanging fruit” of decarbonization, rapid and sustained growth in the ICT field will continue to offset the impact of efficiency improvements until energy producers stop digging new carbon up from underground.
The situation is analogous to the massive tree-planting schemes now under way. Trees capture carbon in the air, but they do not reduce the amount of new carbon forced into the air by energy producers.
On the other hand, energy efficiency opens the door to greater use of renewable energy, and that is where the new consortium will have maximum impact.
A New Push For Data Center Energy Efficiency
The data center angle is a focus of energy policy in Switzerland because it is a favored host for the ICT industry. Although data centers currently account for just 1% of electricity consumption globally, in Switzerland the figure was almost up into the 3% range by 2015. That still may not sound like much, but it’s enough to target the sector for broad policy action.
The new consortium actually has a dual mission consisting of decarbonization as well as energy efficiency. It has assembled a powerful array of firepower to that effect, under the newly formed organization Swiss Datacenter Efficiency Association (SDEA).
On the corporate side are Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the trade association digitalswitzerland as founders, with the Swiss Telecommunications Association, Green IT Switzerland, and the Swiss Data Center Association also included as founding members.
Academic partners include École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. The renewables-focused SwissEnergy program of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy is chipping in support for good measure.
Massive Energy Savings With Current Technology
So far, the consortium has demonstrated its energy efficiency approach on a group of 10 pilot facilities. Among the group, energy savings ranged up to 70%. Five of the participants also deployed 100% renewable energy.
The model has already had an impact on energy policy in Switzerland, with the Canton of Geneva planning to incorporate parts of it into new laws governing the construction of data centers.
Next steps for the consortium include bringing the European Commission and the United Nations into the fold.
Chasing Energy Efficiency To The Edge
The meat of the new energy efficiency model is the fact that the technology for reducing electricity consumption is well in hand.
The challenge is motivating companies and developers to adopt new standards and upgrade existing infrastructure. To that end, the consortium has developed a three-tier “Data Center Efficiency Label” that takes into account on-site energy recycling as well as overall energy efficiency. A fourth “plus” award tacks on, depending on the data center’s overall carbon footprint.
The problem, SDEA emphasizes, is that “edge” computing is taking over where Moore’s Law is leaving off.
As silicon chips reach their physical capacity for density and efficiency, ICT operations are decentralizing under the somewhat mysterious category of “edge” computing, which simply refers to locating data equipment at or near the source of the data.
“Sustained IT performance growth can only come from building more infrastructure, including data centers with closer proximity to the data sources at the edge,” explains Babak Falsafi, Professor in the School of Computer and Communication Sciences at EPFL. Falsafi also founded the school’s EcoCloud industry-academia consortium.
Decentralizing energy efficiency in the ICT universe is going to be a tough row to hoe, especially here in the US where the picture is complicated by new federal policies that are rolling back energy efficiency standards.
Nevertheless, there are many signs that the data center energy efficiency trend will continue to gather steam regardless of federal policy, in pace with other efficiency initiatives. For example, the Energy Department’s Better Buildings Initiative is still engaged, and the agency is still pitching energy savings performance contracts as a bottom line motivator for improvement.
As it turns out, barely two months ago Hewlett Packard Enterprise also launched a multi-year data center collaboration with the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, leveraging another collaboration between the company and the Energy Department initiative called Path Forward.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to Hewlett Packard Enterprise for more insights regarding its US energy efficiency operations, so stay tuned.
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Photo (cropped): Courtesy of Hewlett Packard Enterprise.