Green Grid's metrics sow seeds for IT sustainability

2008 Green 15: Critical PUE and DCE metrics among precious fruits of consortium's labors to bring energy efficiency to the datacenter

About a year and a half ago, executives at several companies were bemoaning the high energy costs and the difficulty of getting enough energy electricity to their datacenters. It's not an uncommon concern among IT execs, but this group did more than kvetch. They banded together and sought other companies to join them. In February 2007, the Green Grid was born, and in less than a year grew to more than 100 members.

Metrics let businesses achieve real energy efficiencies
More important, it established two metrics that are helping companies do something about their datacenter energy woes: the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric and the Data Center Efficiency (DCE) metric. "We started with a common language and metrics to establish the baseline and goals," says John Tuccillo, one of the Green Grid directors. "It's an important starting point for any company looking to embrace sustainable IT practices," he adds.

The approach is simple: "If you can't see it, you can't address it," says Christian Belady, a Green Grid board member.

With these metrics, datacenters and the vendors whose products they employ now can measure energy usage in a consistent way, across various datacenter configurations and product mixes, providing both the insight on where energy is consumed and the ability to gauge whether energy-reduction efforts are actually working. "People were not adopting best practices as well as they should have since they had no understanding of what the effect would be if they did," Belady says. Now they can calculate that effect.

And the results are positive, Belady says, noting that the companies that have used the metrics have all seen improved energy efficiency. How they accomplished these efficiencies varies considerably, as IT and power engineers experimented with various approaches once they had ways of measuring effectiveness. "All of them were finding new and different ways to do so," Belady says. "It's kind of astonishing."

Moving beyond the low-hanging fruit
The Green Grid's initial focus was what Belady calls the "low-hanging fruit," establishing the baselines and metrics around energy consumption. And now it's carrying that fruit further by working with governments in North America, Europe, and Asia to incorporate the Green Grid metrics into their own goals, regulations, and so on.

While governments may use the metrics in different ways, Belady notes that having a common underlying set of metrics is useful to global companies as it provides a consistent context across nations. And there's not been the kind of divisions over energy efficiency as there have been in other environment areas, such as climate change and industrial pollution, "because the governments all have their eyes on the same goal: energy efficiency," he adds.

The Green Grid studiously avoids product recommendations and spends a lot of time gaining consensus among its members, in both cases to further adoption and keep the process as apolitical as possible, Tuccillo notes. "No one company can drive the process," Tuccillo says, lessening the possibility of interminable standards conflicts that groups such as the IEEE have seen.

And the Green Grid uses existing metrics, standards, and research where possible to speed up both the technical and political processes, he adds. "Other organizations are coming up with similar metrics, so why not call them the same?" says Belady.

Tuccillo and Belady expect the Green Grid's task will get more difficult as the nonprofit tackles more complex issues beyond the low-hanging fruit, such as gauging datacenter productivity and correlating that to energy efficiency. But the hard-dollar benefits of saving energy give them both faith the Green Grid will tackle the issues higher up in the tree.

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