Hey kids, guess what? Our government, the same guys who can’t protect the president, promised us that Ebola would never reach our shores and are just flat out stunned by the rapid growth of ISIS, now has a new trivial cause to divert our attention from a continuing legacy of ineptitude. Fortunately, for a small, but undoubtedly growing, number of data center companies, it provides them with the opportunity to spit out a press release and upgrade their marketing materials to demonstrate their commitment to good corporate citizenship, as opposed to their competition, whose product offerings are helping to pave the way toward some dystopian future. I’m speaking, of course, about the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge.
Since the estimated 3 million data centers currently in operation account for almost—wait for it—2% of the nation’s power usage, the folks at the DOE naturally identified them as a prime target to coerce—I mean “challenge”, into agreeing to reduce their power consumption by 20% over the next 10 years. For some of our brethren this is an opportunity that is too good to pass up. By agreeing to accept the DOE’s “challenge”, they are able to pick up some additional cred to wave in front of customer’s who themselves are all to eager to demonstrate their own save the planet bona fides.
Naturally, the DOE is thrilled as they estimate that the power currently consumed by these altruistic data center providers is enough to power 90,000 homes. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, based on the latest US census figures this equates to .0009% of all homes in the country. Wow, talk about your spitting into the ocean moments. But since we all know that “it takes a village”, or was it “Let’s Move” (I always get my propaganda slogans mixed up), we can be sure that these lemmings within the data center industry have their hearts in the right place—and their wallets, too.
Here’s the fundamental issue; they are not in control of it! The fact of the matter is that their customers make the decision on the hardware and the software that drives it. With the latest in technology, servers and storage ramp up and down power usage as the software needs it. This is the equivalent of Ford committing that its cars (existing and new) will actually use 20% less fuel. The only way they can do that is by controlling the driver!
Since I’m as opportunistic as the next guy, I realize that stooping to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the DOE was just too enticing for some providers to overlook, but it seems to me that these companies are a little too clever for their own good. Sure, you get a little positive pub in the short term, but aren’t these folks also serving in the role of “useful idiots” on behalf of the same people that would love to regulate them into submission if it wasn’t for the fact they need them to support their Facebook and Instagram accounts? If we look at the facts I think we’d have to agree that the answer is yes, since 98% of all energy is consumed by other businesses, government entities, etc. and the total sum of the energy saved by these efforts is essentially negated by the emergence of a new suburban oasis somewhere in the country. I guess the cost of an industry wide Kumbaya is really pretty low.
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We all know that fear is a powerful motivator, and that the DOE has had it’s eye on the data center business for a while, so maybe these newly “challenged” companies have decided that “go along to get along” is the best strategy for them moving forward. If that’s the case, so be it. For the prospective data center customer, however, these firm’s status as “challenge” participants should not be viewed as a laudatory attribute, but rather, as the cynical, calculated capitulations that they are.