Why Does Your Data Centre Depend On Diesel?

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Data centres could benefit in many ways from renewable power, but governments could kill that off, warns Peter Judge

Why does your data centre rely on diesel?  You may not think about this, but if you have a data centre, rent space in one, or use services housed in one, you are – with virtually 100 percent certainty – relying on a diesel generator.

I’m talking about back-up and recovery power here, of course, but it’s a topical subject. All data centres have some sort of back-up power, and that is usually a diesel generator or genset.

Power is the key to backup

Power is probably the most important part of data centre back-up, because power is more likely to be interrupted than network connections. In Japan, when the earthquake struck, the Internet stayed up (because of its redundant structure) but in many places power was down.

If disaster strikes, your data centre’s ability to continue will depend on how good your back-up power is. And how long you can continue will depend on how much diesel you have stock-piled, as well as on your actual power needs.

That is yet another good reason to make your data centre more energy-efficient. If you are burning less energy, your back-up will last longer.

But how else can you improve on this?

Well to start with, add disaster recovery to the reasons you might consider your own on-site generation. If you want to think big about this,  make your site self-sufficient in energy, and you have a strong reliability, as well as envrironmental, sales pitch.

But is self-sufficiency really an option? If you are aiming for it, then you need to be considering renewable sources, which don’t depend on a supply of oil.

We don’t know of many self-sufficient data centres, but Next Generation Data in Wales claims to be the first in Europe to use all-renewable energy. Google has invested in wind energy, and solar power is used by Computer Aid for container-based units sent to Kenya. TeleHouse West in London promises to use at least ten percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

Governments can kill this

Like many green ideas, renewable energy is still in its early stages, and there are strong arguments for subsidising it to get the market started. However, it looks like government actions may not be pushing in the right direction.

The UK’s CRC scheme is designed to penalise high energy use and encourage companies to use less. However, it has changed often, from a complex system of rewards and penalties into a straight tax, and has continually been criticised for not rewarding on-site generation of renewable energy.

There is still a possibility that the CRC may be simplified out of existence, but it did not feature in today’s budget speech, so it appears it continues on course for now.

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed “greenest government ever” is facing a howl of outrage from the renewable energy industry for slashing the level of subsidy for solar power built into the “feed-in tariff” – the amount businesses get paid for generating energy and feeding it into the national grid.

These two aspects of green policy could push businesses in the wrong direction, away from a move to self-sufficiency which would be a benefit to all of us in the long run.

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