The push to conserve power is getting serious. Compute sprawl is out of control and some power companies are mandating geographical maximums. Some forward-looking companies we’ve talked to are tying IT executive bonuses to power reduction targets to make sure managers aren’t just paying lip service to the issue. Regulators are even getting in on the act, creating new pressures as shown by this article in Datacenter Dynamics about new taxes being attached to co-location facilities.
There may be some lessons to be learned from other areas of conservation that have been driving towards efficiency longer. There was a piece on NPR this morning about water consumption in which the US geological service released stats showing that per capita water consumption is down thirty percent over the past 30 years.
This dramatic reduction is primarily the result of improved efficiencies in industrial and farming techniques. For example, in the 1930s it took 200 tons of water to make 1 ton of steel. Today’s best steel plants use just 3-4 tons. Similarly, the evolution from flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation and more recently to precision drip irrigation lets farmers produce more food with less water. Both of these moves to superior techniques and technologies were driven by the scarcity (and thus increasing cost) of water, along with a regulatory push in the 1980’s that established strict standards for waste water discharge. One of the least costly ways for companies to comply with those standards was to reduce the amount of water they used for their industrial and agricultural processes.
The inherent goal of business is profit, and public companies in particular have a responsibility to deliver maximum shareholder value. This means they can only afford to get really serious about “going green” when they are incented or required to do so, whether that’s in the form of market demand, increasing cost of resources, or regulation. That’s what happened with water, and it’s where we’re at with energy.
Exponential increases in market data rates, trade volumes and commerce conducted over the Internet are already causing datacenter sprawl that’s driving some insane energy requirements to power and cool the acres of servers they hold. So in addition to issues of scarcity and regulation, companies are already finding themselves highly incented to find technologies that can do more for their datacenter (whether that be in terms of storage, compute power or message routing) with a smaller “carbon footprint.”
As we continue to buy more gadgets to charge and eventually cars to plug in, will it be profitability pressures and regulations on industry that drives energy efficiency into the mainstream? I think the answer is clear.