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November 24, 2010

UK businesses still unaware of data centre carbon footprint

"Completely inadequate" measurement methods being used

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UK businesses are still alarmingly unaware of the environmental impact of their data centres, according to new research.

The survey, conducted by data centre infrastructure management firm nlyte Software, examined attitudes toward green IT from UK CIOs and data centre managers and also UK consumers. One of the more worrying and disappointing results was that just 53% of the businesses quizzed said they know the environmental impact of their data centre.

Despite this lack of awareness 62% still went on to accuse their customers of not knowing the environmental impact of data centres and using online services such as Amazon, Facebook and Gmail.

According to the survey a large number (36%) of data centre managers are still using energy bills to measure the carbon footprint of their data centre, while 21% don’t actually know how it’s measured.

Marina Stedman, EMEA director of marketing for nlyte, told CBR that using energy bills does not give a true reflection of carbon emissions, meaning data will often be incorrect. "It also means that data centre managers will only end up seeing data at most once a month," she added, "and that’s not enough."

"Most data centre managers claim to measure their data centre’s carbon footprint with regular energy bills, but this is a completely inadequate method of measurement," said Rob Neave, co-founder and VP of IT and sustainability at nlyte. "The notion that businesses consider this to be a sufficient metric demonstrates a government failing to produce an industry standard energy efficiency measurement tool that enables both comparison and improvement assessments between different data centres. Right now, we are simply comparing apples with oranges."

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"Looking ahead, if there is nothing in place to measure the carbon footprint of data and energy usage or targets to help forecast future demand, businesses won’t even be in a position to be able to charge these types of services on to consumers," added Neave.

Stedman added that bills tend to fall under the remit of the facilities department rather than IT, meaning data centre managers are not fully aware of the financial impact it has. This is changing, Stedman said, due to the need to drive down costs and the role IT can play there.

Recent initiatives such as the CRC will likely have a positive impact on data centres, the survey also found. The majority (62%) of data centre managers said that they will re-evaluate their environmental policy for their data centres.

A second survey carried out by nlyte looked at consumer attitudes to the same issues. Over half (54%) of consumer respondents said they did not know that using services such as Amazon, Facebook and Gmail has an energy and environmental cost associated, while 83% said they did not know where the information and data produced for these services, such as pictures on Facebook, is kept and managed.

The vast majority (73%) said they are not aware of the environmental impact of the data centres that run these online services. Most (67%) are unaware of government legislation coming into effect that requires companies to pay for their carbon emissions and 76% claim it should be the responsibility of businesses to pay these costs rather than pass it to the consumer. Most consumers (77%) said they would use free online services less if they had to pay to cover the cost of electricity used.

"With research indicating that the most tech savvy generation – the biggest users of these energy intensive online services – have little concern for the cost of their carbon footprint, UK businesses could find themselves in real trouble," said Neave. "Consumers have undoubtedly become accustomed to free Internet services. Our research further shows they have no intention of paying – even if it means being green – despite the growing cost of the carbon footprint of these services. This is a red flag for businesses – particularly as they continue to be plagued by more green levies and rising energy costs."

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