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Apr 13 2009   9:51PM GMT

Google on data center efficiency: Stop making excuses

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

NEW YORK — Bill Weihl, Google’s green energy czar, told a group of data center operators here that some of them need to stop making excuses for not improving their facilities’ energy efficiency.

After years of secrecy around how its data centers operate, Google has now drawn the curtain to show how efficient its data center facilities are. But during a panel discussion at The Uptime Institute’s conference in New York today, some questioned whether all data centers should be cut in the same mold.

In particular, the question was whether the data center power usage effectiveness (PUE) of some businesses — financial institutions, for example — should be compared to those of search engines such as Google.

“Should a bank have the same PUE as a search engine?” Ken Brill, Uptime founder and executive director. “The answer is no.”

The reasoning behind it is that bank and financial applications require a higher level of uptime than search queries, and thus need more redundancy, which leads to lower efficiency. But Weihl questioned the logic.

“We actually have some Sarbanes Oxley requirements,” he said. “We’re not just a search engine company. We also run very reliable data centers that I think any data center operator here would be proud to run.”

Weihl later added that the discussion sounded like “people making excuses for why the EPA or DOE should not push hard for a standard because, hey, we’re different.”

“To me,  not to be too combative, but that sounds like an excuse for not doing better.”

Currently the federal government is working on developing an Energy Star rating for data centers. Michael Zatz, the manager of the Energy Star commercial buildings program, sees the potential for different categories of data centers, but would prefer that those categories be defined by what kind of work the data centers perform, and not necessarily by what industry they’re in or how they identify themselves.

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  • Jpouchet
    This is an interesting discussion on comparing different types of data centers, but with its focus on PUE it misses the larger point. PUE is a nice-to-know bit of data, but it’s simply a ratio of power flow within a facility. PUE does not relate to PRODUCTIVITY, which is the single most important business measure for a data center. To understand productivity, we need to measure useful work per watt and perhaps assign values to different types of work performed in the data center. All bits, bytes and applications may not have the same relative value. The industry as a whole recognizes this problem and The Green Grid is working to develop a suitable tool to resolve this issue. Until then, there are several proxies for useful work, including Emerson Network Power’s CUPS (Compute Units Per Second) that enable us to have a more meaningful discussion on data center efficiency and overall productivity. . Jack Pouchet Emerson Network Power
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  • Mark Fontecchio
    Jack, I agree that a measure of productivity per watt is a better metric. You could have a data center with a PUE of 1.2, but if the IT equipment isn't doing anything, it's all a waste of energy anyway. Once an industry-agreed productivity metric comes out, I would guess that data centers with servers running at higher utilization will benefit greatly, even if those servers might consume more power than other servers that are less power hungry overall but run at 10%. We'll see.
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