Eco-design rules for servers risk increasing energy use in data centre

Operators and manufacturers have warned today that proposed eco-design requirements from the European Commission for servers, designed to cut energy and carbon, may increase them.

The proposals have emerged under the Eco-Design Directive. The full draft regulation is available here: https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiatives/ares-2017-3069227_en

Industry had proposed using an “active efficiency metric” as the means to measure server efficiency in different operating conditions. The Commission, however, has opted for an “idle limit” metric which measures only the energy consumed during occasional server waiting periods and not the efficiency of servers when they are both idle and operational.

Susanne Baker, head of programme, environment and compliance, at techUK said: “Servers have become better performing and are more efficient when operational, the trade-off is a slight increase in idle energy. Overall though it results in energy reductions. Measuring server efficiency by only using idle power metrics will see the most efficient and best performing servers banned from the EU market.”

Emma Fryer, associate director for data centres at techUK, said: “Data centre operators are very concerned because imposing limits on idle power consumption will not decrease total server energy consumption. The best way to reduce unproductive energy use is to increase utilisation through consolidation and virtualisation. Imposing idle limits without considering performance is likely to preclude the sale and deployment of many high performance energy efficient servers, driving the market in the wrong direction, away from larger machines that can consolidate work towards a proliferation of smaller devices with a much larger combined energy and resource footprint.”

Data centres are energy intensive and operators are already strongly incentivised to improve efficiency. Operators are worried that these proposals will reverse the productive trend towards larger, more efficient machines, limit choice, create market distortion and render the EU sector less efficient because operators and their customers will be prevented from accessing the best devices. 

For colocation providers, the proposals create a potential situation where customers who would usually reduce their infrastructure requirements at each refresh stage by consolidating activity onto fewer, more powerful machines, will instead have to deploy more devices and increase the burden they impose on infrastructure. Under this perverse situation, EU operators are rendered uncompetitive because their customers are forced down a less efficient, more expensive route. Data is the most mobile commodity on earth and those customers may simply choose a location outside the EU.”

See also Communication from the UK Council of Data Centre Operators:  https://portal.techuk.org/my-insights/insight/?id=0a9c6117-a09f-e811-8138-5065f38b5621

Background information 
 
  • Servers come in many shapes and sizes and the current trend within the data centre environment is towards fewer, larger and more powerful devices with higher processing capacity. These deliver economies of scale because one large machine has the processing capability of multiple smaller machines but a lower energy footprint. This trend has been driven by the increasing demand to compute data and by the consolidation of multiple workloads onto single servers (e.g. through virtualisation).  
  • There is market demand for a spectrum of devices, from very large, often bespoke machines at one end (known as High Performance Computing, used for research and batch processing and outside the scope of the proposals) to “single socket” servers with one processor.  In between are more powerful two and four socket servers with more processing power. There are also variations in processing power within these ranges.
  • This trend to higher performance machines is not just driven by computing demand but by cost and environmental considerations: these larger machines are much more energy efficient.  They are, as a result, cheaper to run and have, relatively, lower embedded energy, materials requirement and disposal implications, because one machine does the work of many.  

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