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Planning for Regulation in the Data Centre - How Far will Environmental Regulation Go?

Feb 28, 2008
Since the publication of the Stern report, climate change and measures to reduce the carbon emissions of business have been placed firmly on the agenda of regulators and legislators around the world.

In the UK at a local level organisations such as the London Energy Partnership are looking at ways to coordinate the Capital's resources to cut carbon emissions; nationally the government is planning legislation for a low-carbon economy; and in Europe directives, such as RoHS, WEEE and the more recent EuP in the electronics industry, are aligning whole industry sectors with the EU's climate change goals.

Environmental regulation is a reality and it will certainly increase over the next 20 years. With a power requirement of anything up to fifty times those of equivalent office work space, data centre operators and owners should be well aware that this wave of regulation and legislation is likely to have a disproportionate impact on them and their businesses. The question we have to ask ourselves is how do we manage this regulation and work with it, rather than find ourselves standing against it.

First of all I do not believe that data centres are going to become pariahs for the regulators - like the next 'tobacco'.

There is a widespread and acute understanding that a reduction in carbon emissions needs to be achieved without inflicting a terminal blow to the economy, and in the age where the economy is driven by global internet computing, data centres are indispensable.

In fact, the move to lower emissions is very much in line with data centre owners' interests - given the current cost of electricity, anything to reduce power consumption would be welcomed.

I believe, however, that the challenge for the data centre industry is to keep ahead of the 'regulatory curve' by making significant and steady improvements in reducing carbon emissions in order to avoid being mandated to do so.

If we fail, the risk is that we find ourselves saddled with impractical regulations that are not responsive to our business needs and may even be unworkable in our shared goal of reducing carbon emissions and power consumption.

Actually aligning the business processes by which we manage data centres to the principles of a low carbon economy is not as daunting as it sounds. According to the government's environment department, Defra, the principles of a low carbon economy are sourcing energy largely or wholly from low-carbon resources and renewable such as wind, wave and tidal; using products that are more energy efficient; and taking a proactive policy on recycling.

In the data centre industry we have the ability to start sourcing and increasing the use of energy from 'green' suppliers. Wind, wave or solar power does not need to be generated on-site, it can be fed into the grid anywhere - a company policy to seek out renewables from your energy supplier is an achievable first step in reducing the carbon impact of your data centre.

Similarly, the introduction of purchasing policies that favour easily recyclable products, packaging and redundant kit is easy to introduce and will immediately decrease the overall environmental impact of the data centre.

When it comes to overall power consumption and efficiency, immediate reductions can be achieved by the introduction of policies, for example, to manage lighting by using low energy bulbs and zoning in order to only light aisles in the data centre where staff are working, and by switching off test/dev servers when they are not in use.

Whatever environmental legalisation is introduced in the future, the basic principles are likely to remain the same - encouraging an increased use of renewables, more energy efficiency, and product recycling. As a business facility the data centre needs to build-in these principles through it business processes in order to demonstrate a road-map towards lower and lower carbon emissions.

As high energy users, data centre operators should audit their current usage and carbon emissions in order to measure the improvements achieved by taking the actions outlined in this article and future initiatives too so that progress can be easily shown.

Environmental regulation will go as far as it needs to in order to safeguard our environment - our responsibility in the data centre industry is to build in processes to our every day operations that support the principles of a low carbon economy while allowing us to fulfil the requirements of our businesses.
About the Author
Shaun Parker is a data centre specialist with many years of experience in data centre builds. To find out more about data centres at http://www.migrationsolutions.com
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