The Risks of Using Limiting Standards


17 March 2016

By: Lex Coors

The fixed harness per design setup of the existing classification systems does not stimulate data centre design innovation, whilst innovation is key to increase data centre industry sustainability. Third-party research shows the data centres that power the digital economy are responsible for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions today, which is roughly equivalent to the aviation industry’s output. This percentage is only expected to increase as the digital economy’s growth continues unabated. To curb the resulting data centre greenhouse gas emission growth and improve resource efficiency, industry stakeholders collaborate in initiatives like The Green Grid. Improving data centre efficiency, however, will not necessarily slow emissions growth. A higher proportion of data centres need to use sustainable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

Current availability standards do not properly account for data centres that are exclusively designed to use renewable energy sources. Instead, they allow for sustainable energy sources to work in conjunction with the grid, in addition to diesel generator usage. As a result, efficiency across all data centre components is sometimes willingly sacrificed because industry standards must be followed for compliance reasons. This can potentially result in higher data centre operating costs and energy usage. Maintaining a fixed harness classification standard may therefore unintentionally contribute to the growth of fossil fuel consumption.

Another big shift within the data centre industry is the growth of hybrid and public cloud architectures, which is resulting in a growing proportion of compute and storage capacity being located in commercial rather than corporate data centres. Many of the commercial data centre operators, including collocation and cloud service providers, invest heavily in innovation to improve sustainability. These providers often make use of non-traditional data centre topologies, such as interconnecting multiple data centres.

Statistical availability studies by Interxion demonstrate that these networked data centre topologies can achieve the same uptime as traditional data centre designs, but they cannot be categorized when the current standards are applied. Maintaining a fixed harness classification standard may unintentionally hold back technology innovation, as some heavily regulated industries such as financial services are not comfortable with, or permitted to use data centres that are not accredited to an industry standard.

Last but not least, in the current setup there is no classification to reward designs implementing availability features beyond their classification, but not fulfilling all requirements to be classified in the next class. Maintaining a fixed harness classification standard may unintentionally hold back incremental investments that could increase data centre efficiency and resilience.

In summary, the industry is ready for an open-source and flexible classification model, supported by all stakeholders, that promotes innovation in sustainable data centre design and no longer sacrifices cost and energy efficiency to follow fixed harness performance and uptime classes.
We call for a broad industry discussion to build support for a flexible and open standard, operated by a non-commercial organisation which accepts input and welcomes cross-industry collaboration from all stakeholders.