February 3, 2015
Did you ever get one of those emails of unknown origin, forwarded to you by someone with nothing better to do, that ponders how we ever survived our collective childhoods where we walked to school, rode bikes without helmets and ate cupcakes at our school holiday parties? Personally, I like these a lot more than the ones I get that claim George Carlin was a Republican or that Captain Kangaroo fought at Iwo Jima since they contain more than a modicum of truth. I, myself, have somehow reached this advanced stage of life despite a childhood filled with eating Twinkies, riding my bike with no helmet, playing dodgeball, keeping score in my youth league games and occasionally running with sharp objects. My point here isn’t that we’re raising a generation of sissies (we are), but that there are a whole lot of people in the world for whom every aspect of life is fraught with potential danger, and no matter how minute its potential, it must be eradicated to protect the planet, children or any fill in the blank victim of their choice. As you’ve probably figured out by now, the data center industry is no different, as I was reminded when reading a recent article pointing out that data centers have direct emissions too.
Essentially, this was another one of those “you can never do enough” types of screeds whose premise was that even though you’re working to enhance the energy efficiency of your data center, you still need to do more if the earth is to avoid becoming an environmental hell hole of our own making. Let me digress for a moment by asking, “Are these folks ever happy?” Apart from making “Debbie Downer” seem like Tony Robbins, don’t these guys have any repertoire broader than “I want/you need to do more?”
In the article, the author’s point tis that energy efficiency isn’t enough and that data center operators need to be conscious of the “toxic” materials within their facilities. For example, according to the article, there are apparently a number of toxic materials in cabling, that somehow can negatively impact the environment although the article doesn’t specify how or what these nefarious substances are. All is made better however, as the author posits that although using “non-toxic” cabling will be more expensive it will actually become cost effective once the government begins to regulate things and begins fining operators for non-compliance. Now that’s economic motivation that I think we can all look forward to.
Diesel based gensets are another member of the toxic list, since they use diesel fuel. Since we all know that fossil fuels are bad, I guess this one is a no brainer. The author does admit that they are only fired up for small periods of time for testing, or in the event of a power failure, but the cumulative effect apparently is unimaginable. While the author offers no alternative solution, I’m sure that solar powered gensets are the answer—as long as you only have power outages in the daytime.
The use of HFC’s in gas-based sprinkler systems is also an existential threat to the planet since they are greenhouse gases. Of course, only small amounts of gas are released when the system is activated by a fire, but in the effort to protect us from ourselves, we probably shouldn’t quibble about throwing the baby out with the bathwater and just let the insurance company pay to rebuild the 10,000 square feet or so of cinders that used to be your data center.
As many of you have figured out by now, being a human being can be hazardous to, well…just about everything. Since no one, other than maybe a few Malthusians at Greenpeace, is a big believer in ridding the globe of the entire human population, we all need to pitch in to help make the world a better place. I think that on the whole this is something we can agree with. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we’re never going to build a risk free Utopia here on Earth and taking things to the extreme just trivializes the effort to the point the most of us wind up asking, “Why bother?” Perhaps the best indication that we may be reaching that point is when we begin to take the notions of people, who can barely get out of bed in the morning due to the vast array of potential hazards surrounding them, seriously. My advice, do what you feel makes common sense for stewardship, and don’t apologize to anyone for living.