Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 10/1/2012 | 43 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
It's not often that an article in the newspaper sends the entire IT industry off in a tizzy, but a New York Times article on the evils of datacenters has had IT executives talking all week.

I've had conversations with industry journalists and executives about the contents of the article and have heard at least 50 shades of astonishment, but many responses clustered near the very carefully worded stance of John Pflueger, principal environmental strategist at Dell, when he said, "I don't think the article properly communicated how complex the issue is."

The article has certainly opened up a discussion of this complex issue -- and it's a discussion that CIOs and IT executives should be prepared to continue with others in their organizations.

David S. Hale is IT director at American Medical Depot in King of Prussia, Pa. An IT executive with decades of experience in large and small datacenters, Hale's initial email conversation with me on the contents of the article was blunt. "If someone handed it to me on a piece of paper I would bet that it was written in the late 1990s," he wrote. In a follow-up conversation, he pointed to the many factors that make a cavalier attitude toward datacenter energy consumption a non-starter for virtually every company:

When we design datacenters, when we're installing infrastructure, we do calculations on heat given off, how much energy is needed, how much cooling is needed, and everything is planned out to the final degree because all of this costs money. If you don't care about the energy use you lose money.

Looking back at his history in the industry, he said that the tools to save energy have become more powerful as the capability of computer systems has increased:

Virtualization isn't cutting edge -- it's here right now. Back at Unisys in 2007 we created a service for our customers using VDI. That creates even more savings for the customer. We've seen huge benefits with time. Processors take less energy, disks take less energy and SSDs take even less than that. Also, some data centers are putting solar panels on their roofs to reduce their requirements from the electric company.

Reducing electric load is the goal of The Green Grid, an organization made up of companies that operate datacenters and the vendors that supply their equipment. John Tuccillo is president of The Green Grid and global VP of industry, government, and global alliances at Schneider Electric. When I talked with him about the issues raised in the Times' article, he spoke passionately on the advances in the industry since The Green Grid was founded in 2007:

The PUE [Power Usage Effectiveness] was introduced by the Green Grid in 2007, and some new information being published in the next few days further refines the metric. Governments around the world have agreed that the PUE is a baseline for measuring efficiency in datacenters. Today you may have a baseline PUE of 1.4 -- a great improvement over the 2.4 - 2.7 that were common back in 2004.

Tuccillo pointed to the twin advancements of virtualization and modular design as keys to substantial incremental advancements in PUE in recent years:

Look at how many companies segment the data center according to the needs of the uptime and redundancy of the application at hand. Many [new datacenters] allow you to modularize and only use the power required for the particular job.

As the new generation of servers is able to communicate to the electric distribution infrastructure the needs of the application, there will be more fine-grained ways of managing the power usage of individual servers and individual CPU cards.

For John Pflueger, the ability to closely match computing task to energy consumption marks another way to lower energy consumption. The Dell environmental strategist (who is also Dell's representative on the Green Grid board of directors) said that many of the largest datacenters are also involved in a new model of computing economy:

One of the distinctions I use is that we're starting to see data centers I would characterize as factories -- data centers that produce something that's sold for revenue. Google and eBay are like that. When data centers are built as factories they can be much more sophisticated in how they architect the equipment and infrastructure.

He contrasted this to traditional enterprise datacenters in which truly mission-critical applications might only represent 20 percent of the server load but often drive the entire design of the datacenter.

The issue for all of these executives, though, wasn't that there are no issues in datacenter energy consumption, but that the Times' writer painted a picture that's a decade behind the times. Pflueger couched it in terms of business history. "Data centers are like any other business. There are always things that work really well, and there are always things that you're looking to improve. It's been true for decades and will be true for a long time to come."

So what's a CIO to do when a fellow business executive or board member comes up and starts quoting the article, asking just how the IT department can justify the environmental ruin it's visiting upon the earth? Tucillo says that IT executives can honestly point to significant progress in the last few years:

As a people we expect the services of the data center. Governments around the world are improving GDP through more efficient data centers. We should look at how the IT industry is working transparently among peers and with governments and private industry around the world to get energy efficiencies not seen in any other industry.

Hale says that he finds a comparison a useful way to start the energy conversation:

I would go back to an analogy I use for a lot of people: When they complain about how long something is taking on their computer, I compare it to the time required to do it all by paper. Think about all the waste paper that would be required if we were not using computers. The waste would be greater if we weren't using the computers.

When it comes to compelling points, though, Pflueger says that while the arguments can be complex, the tools to begin the discussion are available to every IT department. He explained:

It's a hard question to answer. Almost all IT organizations are going to be able to answer in a way that eases the concerns of the executive. The Green Grid has had a mission, since 2007, to improve the energy efficiency of data centers and in the last year that's expanded into water and carbon footprint.

Every data center should endeavour to understand what its impacts are and be able to measure the impact and be able to track and show improvement over time. From day one of the Green Grid's public existence we've been in favor of organizations implementing Green Grids metrics and tracking them.

So what's your argument? How do you explain to the rest of the enterprise how you justify the large energy footprint of your datacenter? The debate is out there -- what points are you able to add to the discussion? The comments are open: Let us know what you think.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
rdv   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   11/7/2012 5:59:27 AM
Re: alternative energy
@SaneIT, @Anand

   The technology is evolving, solar panels now have a long-life, but the cost of procuring and installing the solar products is huge... Given this the battery  technology that stores the solar power, needs to improve and the life span of the battery needs to improve. I came across one technology based on the liquid metal that holds key to future batteries...
SaneIT   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   11/6/2012 8:27:53 AM
Re: alternative energy
There are some pretty cool things being done with solar and energy storage.  One really cool tech that I've seen is a "painted" on battery, in essence your home could become a giant battery underneath it's siding.  That would go a long way to making alternative energy work since storage is half the battle.
Anand   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   11/6/2012 12:22:55 AM
Re: every action impacts good or bad
I think companies should start being more aware about their energy footprint and come up with strategies that will minimize the effect that their operations can have on the environment.

@Henrisha, true. Companies should start worrying about energy footprint. I would like to know if there are standards already available which measures the energy efficiency ? If such guidelines are already available then companies should strictly implment those guidelines.
Anand   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   11/6/2012 12:22:45 AM
Re: alternative energy
There has been a lot of progress in the solar products in just the past few years.

@SaneIt, true we have seen lot of progress in the solar products. I hope we will be able to produce solar panels which are just like thin plastic sheets, this will help the end user to embed these sheets on terrace, walls, windows etc. 
angelfuego   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   10/8/2012 7:45:56 PM
Re: A Little More Data
Solar pool covers are a staple for pools. It helps to Retain heat collected from the day, prevents the evaporation of the pool water, and not to mention blocks bugs from jumping in!
SaneIT   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   10/8/2012 7:51:45 AM
Re: alternative energy
Here in FL I see solar pool heaters on roofs everywhere, they aren't as ugly as a satellite dish hanging off the side of a house so I don't suspect that solar panels would be any worse.  I do wonder if people would be willing to give up their solar pool heaters for solar panels if it meant that it would cost more to heat their pools.
Henrisha   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   10/8/2012 3:50:25 AM
Re: every action impacts good or bad
It's sad but true. While the world pushes forward with urbanization and developments, it's usually the environment and the animals in it that suffer. I think companies should start being more aware about their energy footprint and come up with strategies that will minimize the effect that their operations can have on the environment. It's every company's social responsibility, after all.
angelfuego   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   10/7/2012 8:34:12 PM
Re: A Little More Data
@CurtisFranklin, That sounds like a great idea! I would look forward to listening to that E2 radio show.
angelfuego   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   10/7/2012 8:32:31 PM
Re: alternative energy
@Saneit, You are right. Who would guess that so many people would put those tv satellite dishes on their roof. They are an eyesore! I think that more and more people are going to look into purchasing more solar technologies in the house. For example: solar windows and solar shingles.
angelfuego   Are Datacenters Killing the Whales?   10/7/2012 8:27:20 PM
Re: every action impacts good or bad
@kstaron, I like the example you gave with the turtles and lights on the boardwalk.
Page 1 / 5   >   >>

The blogs and comments posted on do not reflect the views of TechWeb,, or its sponsors., TechWeb, and its sponsors do not assume responsibility for any comments, claims, or opinions made by authors and bloggers. They are no substitute for your own research and should not be relied upon for trading or any other purpose.

More Blogs from Curtis Franklin Jr.
Curtis Franklin Jr.   5/30/2014   10 comments
A good community can teach you a lot. And Enterprise Efficiency has been one of the best.
Curtis Franklin Jr.   5/26/2014   41 comments
Today is Memorial Day in the US, a day for remembering those who gave, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "the last full measure of devotion" for their country and its citizens. It is a ...
Curtis Franklin Jr.   5/22/2014   35 comments
You're about to know precisely where your customers are and what they're doing. Are you ready for Big Data Advertising Everywhere?
Curtis Franklin Jr.   5/6/2014   19 comments
PHP is a great tool for building web pages that access databases. It's pretty nifty for pwning an enterprise site, too.
Curtis Franklin Jr.   4/30/2014   36 comments
BASIC turns 50 this year. Many IT pros wrote their first line of code in the venerable language, but is the ability to write code even important at the top of the IT ladder?
Latest Archived Broadcast
We talk with Bernard Golden about accelerating application delivery in the cloud.
On-demand Video with Chat
Register for this video discussion to learn how tablets can provide true business usability and productivity.
E2 IT Migration Zones
IT Migration Zone - UK
Why PowerShell Is Important
Reduce the Windows 8 Footprint for VDI
Rethinking Storage Management
IT Migration Zone - FR
SQL Server : 240 To de mémoire flash pour votre data warehouse
Quand Office vient booster les revenus Cloud et Android de Microsoft
Windows Phone : Nokia veut davantage d'applications (et les utilisateurs aussi)
IT Migration Zone - DE
Cloud Computing: Warum Unternehmen trotz NSA auf die „private“ Wolke setzen sollten
Cloud Computing bleibt Wachstumsmarkt – Windows Azure ist Vorreiter
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Enterprise Efficiency Twitter Feed
Site Moderators Wanted
Enterprise Efficiency is looking for engaged readers to moderate the message boards on this site. Engage in high-IQ conversations with IT industry leaders; earn kudos and perks. Interested? E-mail:
Dell's Efficiency Modeling Tool
The major problem facing the CIO is how to measure the effectiveness of the IT department. Learn how Dell’s Efficiency Modeling Tool gives the CIO two clear, powerful numbers: Efficiency Quotient and Impact Quotient. These numbers can be transforma¬tive not only to the department, but to the entire enterprise.

Read the full report
The State of Enterprise Efficiency in the Virtual Era: Virtualization – Smart Approaches to Maximize Gains
Virtualization is a presence in nearly all enterprise data centers. But not all companies are using it to its best effect. Learn the common characteristics of success, what barriers companies face, and how to get the most from your efforts.

Read the full report
Informed CIO: Dollars & Sense: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Cut through the VDI hype and get the full picture -- including ROI and the impact on your Data Center -- to make an informed decision about your virtual desktop infrastructure deployments.

Read the full report
A Video Case Study – Translational Genomics Research Institute
e2 Video

On the Case
TGen IT: Where We're Going Next

7|11|12   |   08:12   |   10 comments

Now that TGen has broken new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions, the company discusses what will come next for it and for personalized medicine.
On the Case
Better Care Through Better Communications

6|6|12   |   02:24   |   11 comments

The achievements of the TGen/Dell project could improve how all people receive healthcare, because they are creating ways to improve end-to-end communication of medical data.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Are Now

5|15|12   |   06:58   |   6 comments

TGen is breaking new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Were

4|27|12   |   06:45   |   10 comments

The Translational Genomics Research Institute wanted to save lives, but its efforts were hobbled by immense computing challenges related to collecting, processing, sharing, and storing enormous amounts of data.
On the Case
1,200% Faster

4|18|12   |   02:27   |   12 comments

Through their partnership, Dell and TGen have increased the speed of TGen’s medical research by 1,200 percent.
On the Case
IT May Improve Children's Chances of Survival

4|17|12   |   02:12   |   8 comments

IT is helping medical researchers reach breakthroughs in a way and pace never seen before.
On the Case
Medical Advances in the Cloud

4|10|12   |   1:25   |   5 comments

TGen and Dell are pushing the boundaries of computing, and harnessing the power of the cloud to improve healthcare.
On the Case
TGen: Living the Mission

4|9|12   |   2:25   |   3 comments

TGen's CIO puts the organizational mission at the heart of everything the IT staff does.
On the Case
TGen Speeding Up Biomedical Research to Save More Lives

4|5|12   |   1:59   |   6 comments

The Translational Genomics Research Institute is revamping its computing to improve speed, storage, and collaboration – and, most importantly, to save lives.
On the Case
Computing Power Helping to Save Children's Lives

3|28|12   |   2:13   |   3 comments

The Translational Genomics Institute’s partnership with Dell is enabling them to treat kids with neuroblastoma more quickly and save more lives.
Tom Nolle
The Big Reason to Use Office

3|18|14   |   02:24   |   46 comments

Office and personal productivity tools come in a first-class and coach flavor set, but what makes the difference is primarily little things that most users won't encounter. What's the big issue in using something other than Office, and can you get around it?
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Mobile Security — A Use Case

3|4|14   |   04:27   |   16 comments

New mobile security solutions can accommodate a wide array of needs, including those of a complex university environment.
Tom Nolle
Killing Net Neutrality Might Save You Money

1|16|14   |   2:13   |   16 comments

The DC Court of Appeals voided most of the Neutrality Order, and whatever it might mean for the Internet overall, it might mean better and cheaper Internet VPNs for businesses.
Tom Nolle
The Internet of Everythinguseful

1|10|14   |   2:18   |   19 comments

We really don't want an "Internet of Everything" but even building an Internet of Everythinguseful means setting some ground rules to insure there's value in the process and that costs and risks are minimized.
Tom Nolle
Maturing Google Chrome

12|30|13   |   2.18   |   25 comments

Google's Chrome OS has a lot of potential value and a lot of recent press, but it still needs something to make it more than a thin client. It needs cloud integration, it needs extended APIs via web services, and it needs to suck it up and support a hard drive.
Sara Peters
No More Cookie-Cutter IT

12|23|13   |   03.58   |   21 comments

Creating the right combination of technology, people, and processes for your IT organization is a lot like baking Christmas cookies.
Sara Peters
Smart Wigs Not a Smart Idea

12|5|13   |   3:01   |   46 comments

Sony is seeking a patent for wigs that contain computing devices.
Tom Nolle
Cloud in the Wild

12|4|13   |   02:23   |   15 comments

On a recent African trip I saw examples of the value of the cloud in developing nations, for educational and community development programs. We could build on this, but not only in developing economies, because these same programs are often under-supported even in first-world countries.
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Is Malware Evading Your IPS?

11|18|13   |   03:16   |   4 comments

Intrusion prevention software is supposed to detect and block malware intrusions, but clever malware authors can evade your IPS in these five main ways.
Sara Peters
Where Have All the Mentors Gone?

9|27|13   |   3:15   |   38 comments

A good professional mentor can change your life for the better... but where do you find one?
Tom Nolle
SDN Wars & You Could Win

9|17|13   |   2:10   |   5 comments

VMware's debate with Cisco on SDN might finally create a fusion between an SDN view that's all about software and another that's all about network equipment. That would be good for every enterprise considering the cloud and SDN.
Ivan Schneider
The Future of the Smart Watch

9|12|13   |   3:19   |   39 comments

Wearing a bulky, oversized watch is good training for the next phase in wristwatches: the Internet-enabled, connected watch. Why the smartphone-tethered connected watch makes sense, plus Ivan demos an entirely new concept for the "smart watch."
Tom Nolle
Cutting Your Cloud Storage Costs

9|4|13   |   2:06   |   3 comments

Cloud storage costs are determined primarily by the rate at which files are changed and the possibility of concurrent access/update. If you can structure your storage use to optimize these factors you can cut costs, perhaps to zero.
Sara Peters
Do CIOs Need an IT Background?

8|29|13   |   2:11   |   23 comments

Most of the CIOs interviewed in the How to Become a CIO series did not start their careers as IT professionals. So is an IT background essential?
Ivan Schneider
The Internet Loves Birthdays

8|27|13   |   3:25   |   69 comments

The Internet has evolved into a machine for drumming up a chorus of "Happy Birthday" messages, from family, friends, friends of friends who you added on Facebook, random people that you circled on G+, and increasingly, automated bots. Enough already.