Today in Cleantech

Google released its number this morning: 2.2 billion kilowatt hours. That’s how much energy it used last year. That’s one hundredth of one percent of global energy use. Of the 1.46 million metric tons of CO2 that Google produced last year, most of it came from data centers, and Google has said that number would be double without efficiency measures. Perhaps the most interesting info coming from the site that Google built to communicate its energy use was how aggressively it argues that PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) needs to be measured as often as possible and over a 12 month period. We’ve covered the issues with PUE as a metric for how efficient a data center is, but one of the core problems is that companies take PUE measurements during cold months when cooling costs are low. Measuring it monthly or even daily over the course of a year will give the most honest data on how efficiently a data center is functioning.

GE shows off uber-green LEED platinum data center

Achieving the ultimate in green building badges — the LEED platinum certification — is pretty rare and is particularly unusual for data centers. But on Thursday GE showed off its new LEED platinum-certified data center in Louisville, Ky. Here are some photos from the green facility.

Want a green cloud? Learn the metrics

Last week’s Verdantix and AT&T report on the energy and carbon emission savings to come from cloud computing is the latest in a long line of studies stating the obvious: Shifting computing from inefficient, dispersed data centers to highly efficient, centralized cloud data centers should save everyone energy. Indeed, the report’s claim of $12.3 billion in energy savings over the next decade fits in with other figures, such as Pike Research’s prediction of a 38 percent energy reduction from a wholesale move to the cloud or Microsoft’s claim of 90 to 32 percent energy reductions from its cloud-computing offerings, depending on how energy-efficient the customer’s deferred data-center investment would have been.

But when it comes to energy, what cloud providers and customers really care about is controlling data center costs and avoiding unneeded investment. To try to get at the cloud’s energy benefits, the industry will need transparency that can allow market forces to determine just how valuable those energy savings truly are — and that means data-center-efficiency metrics. There are several measurements you will need to know to figure out how to differentiate green-cloud-marketing hype from reality.

The data center writ large. So far, most green data center PR has been focused around power usage effectiveness (PUE) and data center infrastructure efficiency (DCIE). These measure a data center’s overall efficiency at using power to support its core IT assets, though from different angles. The Uptime Institute’s corporate average data center efficiency (CADE) measures utilization of both IT and data center facility assets across the enterprise. All of these stats get at how efficient a data center operator is at managing the non-IT energy costs — cooling, lighting, power delivery and backup — compared to the “working” IT power load.

No doubt, cloud-computing providers can offer far better PUE, DCIE and CADE measures than the data centers they’ll replace. Just compare the 2.0 PUE industry average to hyper-efficient cloud data centers from Facebook, Google, Cisco, Amazon and Microsoft with PUEs that approach the perfect figure of 1.0.

Power at the server level. But most cloud-services clients’ needs will be counted on a by-the-server basis. How to compare one server with another in terms of the efficiency of its operations? Getting at that figure is harder than just looking at a server’s specifications, since it also involves variables like how much the server is being used.

Still, a number of statistics are seeking to deliver some kind of computing-power-per-watt measurement. The nonprofit Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. has its SPECpower metric, which measures server performance in operations per watt. Data-center-efficiency-technology startup Power Assure has released its own version, called PAR4, which measures server power use at usages from idle to peak power, as well as on a transactions-per-watt basis. Deutsche Bank has developed a set of metrics that involves comparing a company’s existing servers to the best available to come up with a figure called hardware utilization efficiency (HUE).

With all of these measurements, some standardization is in order. The Green Grid — the industry group that came up with PUE, as well as measures on carbon emission and water-use efficiency of data centers — is working on a metric called data center compute efficiency (DCcE). It’s also working on a server compute efficiency (ScE) measure, which would go into calculating an entire data center’s DCcE.

That could give the industry some much-needed transparency into how to compare servers to one another in both dedicated and virtualized environments. Lost in much of the debate over the cloud’s energy savings is how the cloud will be priced into the equation. After all, every dollar of energy savings to come from switching to the cloud will be split between the cloud provider and the cloud customer. If the cloud host is saving a ton on energy, though, it’s not likely to let that margin go, unless it’s forced to in a pricing war. But we might have to wait for cloud services to get more popular before we see market data to prove that these metrics matter.

Question of the week

What are the key metrics needed to assess cloud computing’s energy efficiency and carbon claims?

Today in Cloud

The environmental credentials of cloud computing routinely come under scrutiny, whether it’s environmental campaigners lambasting a data center’s reliance upon coal or proud owners of new data centers pointing out that they’re naturally cooled by glacial meltwater or architectural ideas borrowed from chickens, naturally heated from deep below the earth, or cost-consciously sharing ‘waste’ heat to warm their local communities. The truth, of course, is that some data centers are pretty efficient, and some are very, very dirty. Recent figures from the Uptime Institute suggest an average PUE of 1.8, so there’s still a long way to go. Here on GigaOM, Jeff St. John keeps a close eye on this space, for example commenting on Greenpeace’s data center report cards last month. Elsewhere, Silicon Republic’s Ann O’Dea talks with Tom Raftery of GreenMonk this week. In the piece, Tom clearly argues that the picture is far more complex than environmental campaigners and data center champions typically admit, and he points to some of the areas in which clarity might usefully and achievably be sought. A simple PUE number is no longer enough.

Today in Cleantech

Digital Realty Trust and Campos Research & Analysis released some interesting new data center stats this week. Their study revealed that a vast majority of respondents, 76 percent in fact, now measure power consumption. Neat, but apparently there’s somewhat of a lag between discovering one’s energy usage and optimizing it. Need proof? According to the study, the average reported PUE rating was a whopping 2.9.

Cloud Computing Gets Hip to Green Markets

Last week, I attended Structure 09, the GigaOM Network’s second annual cloud computing and infrastructure conference, here in San Francisco, and I was struck by the increasing relevance of the space to the discussion around green and IT. As Katie has pointed out in the past, cloud computing’s “avoided costs” selling points map neatly to some green marketing messages that companies are beginning to leverage. But perhaps more notable to me was the expanding array of applications for which cloud computing is being used. In particularly, some of the coffee-break and cocktail-hour conversations floating around pointed to the increasingly “green” markets for cloud computing — the smart grid, in particular.