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Poor data-center configuration leads to severe waste problem

News Analysis
Jan 04, 20193 mins
Data CenterGreen IT

Old servers don’t just burn electricity; they contribute heavily to toxicity of the environment.

business continuity server data center
Credit: Getty Images

All of the monstrous data centers popping up globally are having multiple negative impacts on the planet, the EPA notes.

First, there is the obvious effect, power consumption. Data centers account for 3 percent of the global electricity supply and consume more power than the entire United Kingdom.

But beyond that is the waste caused by disposal. With Amazon and the like deploying more than a million physical servers per year globally, the old server equipment they replace have to go somewhere. The same goes for your old servers.

E-waste 70 percent of toxic waste

The EPA estimates e-waste, disposed electronics, now accounts for 2 percent of all solid waste and 70 percent of toxic waste, thanks to the use of chemicals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, as well as hazardous chemicals such as brominated flame retardants. A lot of that is old servers and components.

And much of that is due to poor configuration and management, according to a study from server vendor Supermicro. In a survey of people who purchase and administer data-center hardware (pdf), only 59 percent of the 361 respondents consider energy efficiency important when building or leasing a new data center. It’s fourth on the priorities list behind security, performance, and connectivity when managing existing data centers.

The result? About 58 percent of respondents did not know their data-center Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). PUE measures how efficiently you cool your systems. The closer to 1.0 the better. And while PUE is an obsession for Google and other hyperscale data center operators, it hasn’t caught on with the masses.

For example, it’s been found that you don’t necessarily have to chill your data center equipment to that of a refrigerator. Natural ambient temperature is fine in many cases, and you can save a lot of money, power, and water if you don’t turn your data center into a meat locker. It may not be pleasant for the humans, but the servers do just fine.

Few people look at the efficiency of their data centers

However, only 6 percent of those who did know their PUE have it at optimal levels. In short, hardly anyone is looking at the efficiency of their data center, and that is translating into burned out hardware that needs to be disposed. An estimated 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste is disposed of globally every year, depositing heavy metals and other hazardous waste into our landfills.

“Only 28 percent of respondents consider environmental issues in the selection of data center technology. Supermicro challenges them to look more broadly at their strategy and start measuring their data center efficiency with a new metric — the Total Cost to the Environment,” the report states.

“Supermicro urges industry leaders to incorporate disaggregated resource-saving solutions into their data center plans, with a goal to lower the average data center PUE to 1.30 and reduce their e-waste by 2025. The health of our environment, our planet, and our citizens may depend on it.”

More and more companies are adopting green policies and an overall mindfulness of their environmental impact. You can start by better managing your data center.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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