Data centers show signs of 'green fatigue'

Success stories from cutting-edge firms such as Google and Microsoft are causing a backlash at less capable data centers

By , IDG News Service |  Data Center

A new survey from the Uptime Institute suggests fatigue is setting in when it comes to making data centers greener, and it may be partly due to overachievers like Google and Microsoft.

In the Institute's latest survey of data center operators, only 50 percent of respondents in North America said they considered energy efficiency to be very important to their companies. That was down from 52 percent last year and 58 percent in 2011, and is despite a constant drumbeat of encouragement to reduce energy costs and cut carbon emissions.

The decline in interest was more pronounced at smaller data centers, which tend to have fewer engineers and less money to devote to energy efficiency projects, said Matt Stansberry, Uptime Institute's director of content and publications.

"A lot of these green initiatives, like raising server inlet temperatures and installing variable-speed fans, are seen as somewhat risky, and they're not something you do unless you have a bunch of engineers on staff," he said.

But there may be other factors at work. Stansberry suspects that managers at smaller data centers are simply fed up hearing about success stories from bleeding-edge technology companies such as Google, and their survey responses may reflect frustration at their inability to keep up.

"I don't really think that half the data centers in the U.S. aren't focused on energy efficiency, I think they're just sick of hearing about it," he said. "You've got all these big companies with brilliant engineers and scads of money, and then there's some guy with a bunch of old hardware sitting around thinking, What the hell am I supposed to do?"

The gap in enthusiasm reflects a divide between large and small data centers that is apparent in other areas too. Data centers with more than 5,000 servers are far more likely to have invested in new infrastructure and expansion projects, he said. Smaller data centers, meanwhile, are maintaining existing facilities and moving more work to online service providers and collocation facilities.

Those service providers and colos are also the ones investing the most in going green, he said. IT energy costs make up a big part of their overall operating costs, so "every penny they save is profit," he said. Other companies, including big retailers and manufacturers, see less incentive to improve efficiency. For some, reliability and security are a bigger priority.

There was also a division along geographic lines. Interest in green IT was higher in Asia and higher still in Latin America -- particularly Brazil, where energy costs are high. The interest may be lower in the U.S. partly because energy here is relatively cheap, Stansberry said.

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