Embrace The EU Data Centre Code Of Conduct – Or Risk Legislation

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A year after the EU issued its Code of Conduct for data centres, lack of participation could damage the autonomy of the industry, says TelecityGroup’s Rob Coupland

It has been almost a year since the European Union Joint Research Commission announced the Code of Conduct for Data Centres, the first practical set of guidelines to improve energy efficiency within the data centre industry. The initiative was designed to bring all industry stakeholders together – from vendors to data centre operators – to work collectively to mitigate the increasing data centre energy consumption which has a direct impact on the EU’s overall energy and environmental policies.

In the months since its launch, it is surprising to see so few organisations publicly embracing and applying the Code of Conduct. It is widely recognised that data centres are heavy consumers of energy, and with the central role they play in the digital economy the issue is likely to continue rising up the political agenda. By drafting the Code of Conduct, the EU has thankfully avoided burdening the industry with resource-intensive regulations – the self-governing approach allows organisations to focus on business performance which is understandably their top priority.

However, there has been criticism that the Code is weak because it is voluntary, and that it does not impose strict enough regulation on the industry. This scepticism appears to stem from a reluctance to change business models in uncertain economic conditions, especially when returns are unlikely to be immediate. Yet given the complexity of the mandatory and voluntary controls that are already in place in the data centre industry, the fact that the Code encourages self-regulation should be applauded.

Follow the code – or expect regulations

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Organisations seemingly fail to understand that by ignoring the Code of Conduct they are potentially causing a risk to the current autonomy of industry. The Code provides businesses with a sensible, practical and applicable set of measurements to improve efficiencies, minimising the environmental impact of data centre operations as well as having beneficial effect on the bottom line.

There is an increasing focus on energy efficiency in business as a whole, and by failing to apply the Code organisations risk being unable to demonstrate their environmental efficiency to customers who in turn are having to meet their own targets. Whereas previously it had been difficult for customers to differentiate between what represents real action and what is clever marketing, the best practices defined within the Code of Conduct document represent not only the expected minimum standards but also many other identified and standardised energy management practices – it allows organisations to help demonstrate where improvements are being made.

With the industry focus adding energy efficiency to the list of key factors in outsourcing considerations, it will soon become a differentiator when organisations are choosing a third party data centre supplier. The Code provides formal and objective criteria from which they can compare and assess potential suppliers – but the lack of take-up indicates that some operators are perhaps resigned to the decision making being taken out of their own hands, with the possibility of future regulation imposed from the EU.

In the past, the majority of energy efficiency initiatives within the industry have taken the form of uncoordinated vendor-specific product and service announcements. This has led to confusion of what represents best practice, as well as mixed messages and accusations of industry ‘greenwash’. It is important the industry works together to define the next generation of standards and the Code of Conduct is a significant event in this journey. There is every reason for organisations to apply the Code of Conduct; continued failure to do so has the potential to force greater regulatory intervention, which will reverberate on businesses all around the industry.

Rob Coupland is COO of TelecityGroup.