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IT Businesses told: 'find alternative energy sources'

A liquified natural gas plant... some say gas could be used to power more data centres.

Natural gas could be the answer for data centres. Companies should look to alternative sources of energy when building their data centre or choosing a third-party provider, according to an analyst. Alternatives such as natural gas would help them lower power consumption, avoid unnecessary carbon emissions and benefit the planet, says Arun Chandrasekaran, research director, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan. As demand for data storage and data processing multiplies in the wake of unprecedented content production, business analytics, social networking and mobile phone usage, organisations are under pressure to re-think their data arragenments.
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Chandrasekaran has released a report - Not All Data Centres are Equal, commisioned by data centre owner Macquarie Telecom, that addresses the options of building a centre compared with outsourcing. He told IT Pro companies should strive to make any data centre "as green as possible" over and above "green IT". "It is possible to go off the grid. As power costs continue to rise and as a carbon tax becomes a reality in this country, natural gas is a definite possibility for (purpose) built and in-house data centres," he said. He said energy efficient new-generation equipment and better management of energy losses would also make a difference to help lower a centre's PUE power utilisation effectiveness. The metric, coined by the not-for-profit global Green Grid Consortium, can help determine the performance of a facility's electrical and mechanical systems. New data centres are aiming to deliver 1.2 or 1.3 PUE when traditionally the measurement has been around 2.52.7. Aidan Tudehope, managing director hosting, Macquare Telecom, claimed in-house data centres could not compete with larger third-party providers in PUE.

"The reality is enteprises don't have the expertise in-house. MacTel is investing $60million in a tri-generation data centre to open in Sydney in March that uses natural gas to generate electricity then uses the heat let off by the generator to cool the facility through an inverter. We're aiming at a PUE of 1.3," Tudehope said. "The reality is you will spend more on power over the life of the data centre than it costs to build one. If you can reduce your PUE from 3.0 to 1.5 you'll be halving your power bill." Tudehope said any client could choose to buy green energy, such as electricity generated by wind-powered turbines, from their energy provider, but lowering the overall PUE was more important. "That is what data centres around the world should be focusing on and a lot are." In his report, Chandrasekaran said most data centres were striving to achieve a PUE close to 1. "Unless captive data centres can run at low PUEs (at least below 1.5) and achieve industry best practices on other key metrics, there is likely to be a strong business case for outsourcing hosting," he wrote. "I don't believe you can get to 1.1 in a facility in Australia if you want to be near a capital city. Best practice is 1.3 to 1.5," Tudehope said. The Uptime Institute which works with the Green Grid and awards best-in-class energy efficiency initiatives once warned against relying too much on the metric. It said "a data centre can achieve a PUE of 1.2 only if no mechanical cooling is used or if there is no uninterruptable power supply and minimal mechanical cooling". It said power efficiency and low cost must be weighed against reliability and warned against PUE marketing hype. Efficiency claims needed to be proven by reduction in power bills instead. Chandrasekaran suggested data centre operators, whether enterprises or third-party providers, must explore green building design, buy energy efficient equipment, manage thermostats well, manage air flow distribution, rely on natural cooling where possible, as well as improve PUE and look to alternative energy sources. "Australian data centres that rely entirely on the grid power are responsible for significantly more carbon emissions than their counterparts in other developed countries due to the nature of electricity generation in Australia," he wrote.