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Data Centre Power Usage Surges 63 Percent

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Data centres want more power per rack as the cloud boosts demand

The green credentials of data centres may come under renewed fire, as it has emerged that they have increased their power usage by 63 percent in one year, according to a survey by Data Centre Dynamics.

The surge in power comes at a time when the data centre industry is smarting from attacks from environmental groups like Greenpeace, as well as the New York Times, over its environmental record. Global investment in data centres has also gone up by 22 percent – and the trend has been mirrored in the UK, according to the second annual data centre census produced by DCD Intelligence.

No more green fields?

Nicola Hayes DCD data centre dynamics“If we carried on growing at the rate we’ve been growing for the last few years, we’d end up with a country entirely covered with data centres, and no green fields,” said Nicola Hayes, managing director of DCD Intelligence.

However, she expects the growth to slow down, with only a 17 percent increase in power use between 2012 and 2013 – and a 15 percent growth in investment.

The massive growth in data centre energy use is being driven by demand for cloud services and applications such as Google and Facebook, and comes despite a drive to run data centres more efficiently with less wasted power.

Cloud data centres are held to be more efficient than in-house server rooms, but the shift to cloud is growing demand too fast for these economies to show, it appears from DCD’s census. Accurate figures in this field have been hard to come by, as outsourcers and their customers may both quote data for the same servers, and many data centres quote capacity rather than actual usage. However, Hayes said these factors had been taken into account.

Overall the world is using 38GW of power in its data centres, and the UK’s share of that is around 2GW, underlining the UK’s strong position in the data centre market, which Hayes said is under question given uncertainties around environmental taxation, and questions over whether the UK’s generation capacity can keep pace with demand in the future.

“Some large organisations have gone to Iceland or Norway, put off by the uncertainties over power and taxes,” said Hayes. “Till that is resolved there is a very big question mark hanging over the UK data centre industry.”

The data centre sector is campaigning for clarity on carbon taxation: “We are seeing our position of leadership in Europe being eroded, and we are very concerned about the long term future of data centres,” said Emma Fryer, climate change programme director at the IT trade body Intellect, who is campaigning to have data centres excluded from the CRC carbon tax, and put under a Climate Change Agreement regime.

In the UK and other developed countries, the power demand per rack in data centres is growing very fast, said Hayes, because there is a shortage of space for data centres, and they have to be packed more densely with IT equipment.  On average, data centres use about 5.3kW per rack now, compared with 3.78kW last year – and in the UK and the US, 20 percent of data centres actually use more than 10kW per rack.

The percentage of data centres which are oursourced has grown, from eight percent in 2007, up to 19 percent in 2012, and this is set to grow further to 28 percent in 2013, said Hayes, at the launch of the census in London.

DCD Intelligence surveyed around 4000 data centre owners across the world, for the census.

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