Metric analysis

The Metric is the Message: Introducing a Comprehensive Data Center Sustainability Standard

In 2007, the green grid came up with an equation that helped change the course of the data center industry:

The data center’s total electrical load divided by its IT load.

This is a simplified version of energy use efficiency (PUE) ratio. And when it comes to metrics, the PUE has actually wielded some power over setting energy efficiency targets across the industry.

All the internet giants follow him. And when they started following him, good things happened. In 2008, a PUE of 1.2 was considered nearly perfect, given that the ideal theoretical target is 1.0. Several years later, Facebook topped that with a PUE of 1.078. Others soon followed. And the number continues to drop.

The PUE metric, a shared standard that turned energy efficiency into a single digestible number, paved the way for progress. While measuring PUE is a great tool, the industry is coming together on a common standard for something much bigger. Overall, the environmental sustainability of data centers is taking center stage.

Instead of spurring a race for efficiency, this new metric could spur the race for zero waste, zero carbon, and zero emissions.


The birth of a new sustainability metric/framework

To be clear, many sustainability measures already exist. But to this day, there’s still no consensus on which ones matter most and how to organize them into a widely accepted dashboard. To help build momentum toward consensus, I will speak with Nancy Novak, Chief Innovation Officer at Compass Data Centers, at the 7×24 Exchange conference in June. In our session, “Achieving Sustainable Data Centers by 2030”, we will explore how the industry can move towards a standard definition.

“Sustainability in our data center operations is an executive topic. Our journey towards increased sustainability is influenced by our own beliefs and fundamentally driven by our customers and investors. Our progress depends on the ability to measure and implement multi-level sustainability, not just energy efficiency,” says Nancy.

Nancy and I share the belief that a standard definition is essential to progress. The next logical step, therefore, is to develop a clearly defined sustainability metrics framework that allows the data center industry to standardize, implement and measure sustainability efforts.

Recent conversations with industry leaders, particularly in the hyperscale and colocation markets, inspired our team at Schneider to develop such a standard. This work resulted in a white paper, “Guide to Environmental Sustainability Metrics for Data Centers“, which presents a set of 23 key measures. (See Table 2) These 23 measures are classified into five categories covering the entire spectrum of environmental sustainability, and they are classified according to three levels of achievement: beginner, advanced and leader. .


Towards a more perfect frame

The list of 23 metrics combines the basics, such as total energy consumption and PUE, with more sophisticated metrics, such as hour-by-hour supply and consumption matching and average species abundance for the biodiversity.

Why such a wide range? Because no metric gives you the complete picture. For example, PUE does not take into account variables such as regional climate. You can use saver mode much more in Michigan than in Florida. This discrepancy is significant, and this dashboard seeks to properly weigh these variables.

Taken together, these 23 metrics provide the premier industry standard for assessing whether a data center is truly sustainable. And this is a major step.

Of course, for a shared standard to work, these 23 metrics must be measured and reported consistently. This is another hurdle for our industry to overcome.

Fortunately, this is not a question of feasibility; the technology to measure all of these elements exists. The difficult part is aggregating all of this data into a meaningful sustainability assessment. That’s where our new white paper, titled “Environmental Sustainability Management (ESM) Software for Colocation Data Centers,” comes in. This document presents a clear approach to achieve this.


No metrics, no measurement, no improvement

The key here is that with measurement comes improvement. There’s little between measuring data that uses these metrics and finding ways to improve. In fact, finding improvements may be the easiest part because cloud-based analysis tools now automate this discovery process.

Ultimately, the PUE story tells us that once you set a clear, metrics-based goal, and once you start measuring your progress toward that goal, results will follow.

At a time when the urgency for sustainability is at an all-time high, a standards-based approach is how we connect big ambitions to concrete actions. Let’s do it together.