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Some Common Sense Advice From Mom

june cleaver - Compass DatacentersAs I begin this third and final installment of my response to the New York Times’ article I ask you to remember when you were a kid and you really wanted to do something that you inherently knew was going to be a tough sell to mom and dad. If your parents were like mine, their modes of response were in diametric opposition. Dad tended to be direct, leaving little room for negotiation:

“Dad, can I go to the movies…?”
“Why? Everyone else is going”.
“Because I said so”

Mom preferred more of the “Socratic Method”, fending off my questions with questions of her own:

“Mom, can I go to the movies…?”
“Why? Everyone else is going”.
“If everyone else was jumping off a cliff would you?”

Although I’ve often wondered what my mom would have said if I would have ever answered yes—probably escalate the issue to my dad whose reaction would have emulated Bruce Banner’s transformation into the Hulk–she did have a point. I think mom’s question offers a good cautionary note for many of today’s data center providers who seem to be so eager to prove their energy efficiency bone fides that they don’t consider their actions in a broader context.

Considering the actions to take regarding energy efficiency within a holistic context seems like a common sense approach but many data center providers, and their customers, seem to make their efficiency decisions solely on the basis of demonstrating that they are “greener” than the next guy without taking into account their overall business impact. They seem to forget that the concept of efficiency also extends to their deployment of capital. For providers this efficiency is expressed in terms of their ROI, and for our customers the yardstick is their ability to reduce the amount of capital that they deploy. Failure to consider the long-term ramifications of investments to promote efficiency can have substantial consequences.

Since both providers and customers must evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts by examining TCO over the time period they have allocated to their data center’s operation, on-going operational expense provides us with the best place to illustrate the importance of holistically evaluating your “efficiency” based decisions. Let’s say a provider is looking at purchasing an evaporative cooling system. It costs $1 million, but boy is it efficient, and I can use it as bullet point in the “How Green I am” section of my brochure. For many providers, and customers, their analysis ends here, without any consideration of the other elements that would affect their decision like their on-going water costs and the system’s actual impact on energy usage. If the corresponding water costs are $500,000 for 3 million gallons of water annually and it lowers PUE by a tenth of a point, have they achieved their desired efficiency goals—including those pertaining to the capital expended? The point here is that in a rush to demonstrate their commitment to energy efficiency many in the industry make very inefficient decisions. While they may be making the New York Times and Greenpeace happy, the marketplace doesn’t give points for good intentions and they will ultimately pay for the shallowness of their evaluative processes. Addressing external pressures may breed good will, but only the use of a holistic approach focused on eliminating waste (unnecessary costs for example) can ensure long term viability, or to paraphrase your mom, “just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean you should too”.