London Olympics presents unexpected problem for data centers

Global data centers are finding themselves unable to implement potentially energy-saving initiatives because doing so may require short bursts of energy that exceed caps imposed by power companies, said one Sun official yesterday.

UNITED NATIONS (BetaNews) - In a twist of interlocking ironies, data centers worldwide are finding themselves incapable of implementing initiatives that could reduce their energy consumption over the long run, because their short-run requirements exceed the caps imposed on them by their power companies.

This comes from Lori Duvall, the director of the energy responsibility program for Sun Microsystems, who spoke yesterday afternoon at a UN conference on IT industry responsibility for the environment. provides free tools to businesses that wish to measure their business' energy output, particularly in their data centers.

Absolutely everyone who works in data centers today is concerned about energy consumption, Duvall told an audience of IT company executives, IT managers, and UN diplomats. As her team's data indicates, as much as 50% of the energy consumed by data centers gets "leaked out" -- in a sense, it's consumed though it's not really being used. As a result, businesses pay as much as double for the energy they're receiving.

In cities where so much of the world's data centers are concentrated -- especially New York City and London -- financial enterprises need the ability to run new algorithms that can crunch numbers more efficiently over the long haul. But to accomplish that, their IT centers need to budget more energy to get these new programs up and running in real-time. Perhaps, for instance, they need an extra megawatt.

But their power companies won't allot that extra megawatt, Duvall said. As a result, data centers are stuck running older applications using un-evolved business logic, that ironically consumes more power over longer periods of time -- and thus contributes to the 50% of data center power that's not really being used.

Power companies in major metropolitan areas have imposed limits on how many megawatts they can provide enterprises, she told the UN. In London, where so much of the city's infrastructure still needs replacement, those caps are there for an extraordinary reason: the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in 2012. The city is upgrading, among other things, its power grid for more efficiency. And doing that requires less of a draw on the grid from private industry.

As a result, businesses can't purchase the additional energy they need in the short term, to help them reduce their consumptions and purchases in the long run.

Duvall said the IT industry can indeed contribute to solving the world's energy consumption problem, but to do so, it needs four things from ordinary people: 1) new technologies for electronic waste reduction, to reduce that unused 50% margin; 2) more stable, predictable data about energy availability and usage (perhaps data produced by her team's own programs); 3) more direct partnerships from world governments, and fewer meaningless promises; 4) manufacturers worldwide should continue their efforts to have a less adverse impact on the environment where everyone, including the IT industry, lives and works.

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