A new Australian Government energy rating for data centres is likely to catch most if not all end-user server rooms, according to specifications released by the NSW Government.
The National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) — which applies energy efficiency ratings to office buildings — is to be extended to data centres in 2013.
The NABERS data centre rating aims to drive energy efficiency in a sector that accounts for some two percent of the world's power consumption.
Australia will be among the first countries in the world to tackle data centre power as a national issue.
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, which is managing the effort on behalf of Federal, State and Territory governments, has released some basic information on what will be measured under the world-first rating.
According to the released specifications, the Government defines a data centre as any compute environment that generates 90,000kw per year (about 10kw/h), has shared storage separate from servers and is cooled by a dedicated system (not by the building’s generic air conditioning system).
According to Bob Sharon, a NABERS-accredited assessor and CEO of Green Global Consulting, the bar has been set low enough to catch the many thousands of mid-sized Australian businesses running IT equipment in ‘broom-closet’ sized server rooms.
“A 10kW load is effectively one rack in a facility,” agreed Mike Andrea, director of data centre consultancy Strategic Directions.
NABERS has developed three ratings — an IT Workload rating for tenancy data centres in which the owner of the IT infrastructure has no control of the wider facility, an Infrastructure rating for co-location facilities that have no control of the workload, and a Total Data Centre Rating for when both can be measured.
Sharon described the Infrastructure rating as similar to Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), a commonly understood power efficiency metric in most data centres.
But the IT Workload Rating moves further up the value chain. The NABERS IT Workload Rating judges power consumption of a given workload against the number of processing cores and volume of storage attached. It also serves to inform the Total Data Centre Rating.Sharon expects the IT Workload Rating and Total Data Centre Rating to drive organisations toward energy-saving technologies such as server virtualisation and the de-duplication of storage.
“If your servers are not virtualised, and you are using only 10-15 percent of server capacity and using a lot of power for storage – it will show up in your NABERS rating,” Sharon said. “The whole point of the exercise is to get people using virtualisation and consolidation and to ensure their servers are efficient.”
Sticks and carrots
The NSW Government plans to provide more information on the rating system in early 2013.
Early indications are that it won’t be mandatory for those facilities defined as data centres to maintain a NABERS rating, at least not at launch. The Departments responsible are likely to first monitor whether the market can self-regulate before it makes NABERS ratings mandatory for data centres.
Regulated or not, Andrea isn’t confident the system will gain much traction at the low end of the market, where in excess of 70 percent of IT infrastructure is still housed today.
“The question is: what teeth are being applied? If it is not mandatory, I imagine the smaller organisations will probably ignore it. I don’t know that 10kW of load has enough impact on their bottom line. Power inefficiency only gets addressed when it starts to hit the bottom line.
“Analysts suggest there are as many as 30,000 small data centres across the country. Is the Government going to audit every one of those? That would be a cost burden on small business that we don’t need. There is enough red tape on small and medium enterprises without introducing [more].
"I can see there is benefit in [a NABERS data centre rating], but if there is a compliance cost of several thousand dollars to be audited, you won’t find the smaller organisations lining up to have it.”
Sharon, by contrast is confident the market will drive the desired outcomes.
“It will happen the same way as it has with building ratings,” he said.
Large Australian organisations are already obliged by law to submit Commercial Building Disclosures to government to monitor energy consumption. Many government agencies will only tenant a building that has a minimum star rating of 4.5.
Sharon expects governments will drive better market outcomes in the data centre space by specifying NABERS ratings in tender documents.
But Andrea notes that at a Federal level, agencies can only contract to a pre-accredited panel.
“You need about 500 square metres of floor space to be on one of those panels," he said. "A 10kw load is effectively one rack in a facility, but some of those facilities will handle 1500 racks.
“To have a genuine impact on the environment, the rating should be about the bigger facilities — anyone with a data centre room over 100 square metres or 50kw. That’s where the real target should be hitting.”
The NABERS data centre rating will be explored in detail at the Australian Data Centre Strategy Summit on the Gold Coast in February 2013. Get your tickets today.