451 Research: The Green Grid breaks out of the datacenter to explore smart cities and the cloud

InsightaaS: In the research report below, the 451 Group’s European research manager, Andrew Donoghue, offers an interesting take on efforts of The Green Grid to remain relevant in an industry that is fickle in its support of the Next Big Thing. According to Donoghue, the organization built its reputation on “the hype around green IT” but is now turning to cloud, smart cities and the Internet of Things to retain backing from members that may be looking beyond green to the next IT media construct. Donoghue positions The Green Grid’s shift to cloud at the organization’s latest meeting as a late attempt to focus on digital infrastructure efficiency as a whole — an area into which other groups (including 451 Research) have boldly gone before, to localized IoT computing as exploration of a topic that has already been addressed in the data centre industry through DCIM, and to smart cities/grids/renewable energy as a response to integration challenges that are top of mind to vendors (and Green Grid Board members) such as Cisco, IBM and Schneider Electric, and which 451 also appears to be leading in a new EU sanctioned initiative.

While he acknowledges the importance and pervasiveness of Green Grid metrics, such as PUE, and work to establish similar methodologies in new areas such as renewable energy (the Green Energy Coefficient, GEC, which provides a measure of the proportion of renewable energy used in the facility), Donoghue’s tone smack of not a little organizational rivalry. Could this be a product of The Green Grid’s broader perspective on the functioning and future of the data centre, or its transition to the establishment (by the China branch) of a new green data centre assessment methodology, a 451 preserve that the group would likely prefer to reserve to the Uptime Institute’s Tier Classification System?


Andrew Donoghue, European research manager, 451 Group
Andrew Donoghue, European research manager, the 451 Group

Datacenter sustainability group The Green Grid recently held its first annual meeting in San Francisco since announcing a shift in focus early in the year. The organization is expanding its reach beyond the datacenter and into related areas such as smart city technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as further up the IT stack and into cloud. It is also trying to expand its geographic focus beyond Europe and North America and into Asia — most notably China. The shift in focus is an attempt to remain relevant and attract new members; it is also a legitimate response to significant changes in recent years in the way datacenters are designed, provisioned and managed.

The 451 Take

The Green Grid has achieved a lot in its relatively short history, but it has also faced challenges on a number of fronts. The global recession hit soon after it was formed and put pay to much of the hype around green IT that helped to spawn the organization. Primarily supplier-led, Green Grid has struggled to position itself as also representing datacenter operators and other users of IT. Other groups, such as the Facebook-backed Open Compute Project, have been more successful recently at appearing to challenge the supplier-led status quo. Green Grid has also been a victim of its own success to some degree — awareness of datacenter energy and resource efficiency has increased, and legislation has been deflected and curtailed. As a result, a number of its members have decided that research and lobbying dollars are now better spent elsewhere. A good number may well return, however, if The Green Grid can repeat the success it has had with PUE and other initiatives in the cluster of nascent but important sectors it has now set its sights on.

The Green Grid was established in 2007 at the height of the first wave of hype about green IT, and in a short time it had some 200 members and a variety of projects underway. Initiatives included proposing new efficiency metrics, the best known being the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric, the ratio of energy spent on the total facility against energy spent on running the IT equipment, which has become widely adopted (but also widely abused) in the industry.

But while interest in datacenter energy efficiency and sustainability has developed and matured since Green Grid was established, so-called green IT generally is not as widely publicized as it was back in the mid-2000s. The puncturing of the green bubble impacted the relevance, and consequently the membership, of The Green Grid — membership has dropped steadily since 2008. Revenue from membership has declined from more than $2m in 2007 to around $1.3 m in 2014. The organization has attempted to halt this decline by offering individual memberships ($400 per annum), which now make up around one-third of total members compared with more lucrative corporate membership (up to $25,000 per annum).

Into IoT, cloud

The organization’s new remit could be best described as being focused on improving digital infrastructure efficiency — a concept that other organizations, including 451 Research, use to describe the totality of technologies that encompass an organization’s entire IT infrastructure and ecosystem.

The agenda of The Green Grid’s main annual meeting in San Francisco in Q4 2014, delayed from its usual spot in Q1 so the organization could recast the event to reflect its wider remit, provided some insight into the new strategy. The event attracted around 200 delegates — a mixture of Green Grid members and nonmembers (who paid around $250 to attend the event). Speakers and attendees included representatives from Green Grid regulars such as Schneider Electric (the company’s senior VP of government affairs, John Tuccillo, is chairman of the board and president of Green Grid), Cisco, Digital Realty, Dell and Emerson Network Power, as well as Google (head of global datacenter sustainability Joyce Dickerson recently joined The Green Grid board), the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Greenpeace and Microsoft.

Themes covered at the event included:

  • Government engagement. As well as being a forum for networking, The Green Grid could also be viewed as a de facto lobbying group for the datacenter industry. One of the main motivations for the group to develop efficiency metrics such as PUE is to reduce the likelihood that metrics and regulation will be imposed on its members from outside. Green Grid says it has been collaborating with government since its inception, the latest example of which is an initiative with The US Department of Energy (DoE) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the end of Q3 2014, the DoE announced that it was extending its Better Building Challenge to include datacenters. Owners and operators that sign up for the initiative commit to reduce their energy use by 20% over the next decade. Organizations that have signed up include eBay, Digital Realty and Schneider Electric. The organizations will share best practice as well as progress made on energy reduction. The challenge is similar to the EU Code of Conduct on Data Centre Energy Efficiency, which The Green Grid contributed to — a widely respected but relatively poorly adopted initiative.
  • The impact of IoT on the datacenter. If predictions for the potential of IoT are accurate, then myriad new devices will become connected over the next decade, with implications for datacenter operators. The sheer magnitude of new data that will result from IoT will necessitate more localized computing in or close to the new endpoints — an approach Cisco and others define as ‘fog’ computing. This kind of increasingly fragmented and localized approach to computing will impact the way datacenters are located, designed and operated. There were several sessions looking at the impact of IoT; questions posed included the degree to which the current stock of datacenters is ready for IoT and how much new infrastructure will be required. It could be argued that datacenter operators are already dealing with IoT, albeit on a small scale — datacenter infrastructure management (DCIM) software, for example, which is dependent on analyzing information from intelligent sensors and meters, could be considered an example of IoT in action.
  • Integration with smart cities, smart grids and renewable energy. Energy grids are evolving away from being based on centralized generation of fossil fuels, to intelligent distributed generation, in part from renewables. Datacenters will continue to be large consumers of grid energy, and will have to deal with its increasingly distributed nature. But they will also increasingly be producers of on-site generation from small-scale renewables, and participants in mini, micro and super-grids, as well as next-generation fossil fuel technologies such as fuel cells. Organizations such as Google, Greenpeace and the US NREL discussed the challenges of sourcing and generating renewables at this year’s forum. Smart cities, IoT, and changes in energy generation and provision are also increasingly important to organizations on the Green Grid board, including Schneider Electric, IBM and Cisco.451 Research also presented a session at the event on our involvement in a European Commission research project to investigate the touchpoints between datacenters, smart cities and renewables. RenewIT is one of six projects funded by the EU under its Framework Programme 7 (FP7) initiative. The goal of these projects is to develop research and commercial tools to help increase the proportion of renewable energy generated and used by datacenters. RenewIT, for example, is looking to develop a free online tool to help datacenters select the right mix of renewables based on location, as well as the IT workload. Green Grid is providing support to the projects as they look to contribute to and develop new metrics for quantifying issues such as the proportion of renewable energy used by datacenters, heat-reuse (e.g., diverting waste heat into city district heating systems), and carbon and water use.
  • Metrics and certification. Green Grid is probably best known in datacenter circles for developing and popularizing the PUE metric. Widely adopted, but also widely abused and misreported, the metric has proved to be extremely useful, but also highly divisive. Green Grid is attempting to legitimize the metric and make it more appealing to regulators looking for a way to benchmark datacenter energy efficiency by having PUE approved as an industry standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) via its involvement in the Global Harmonization for Data Center Energy Efficiency group. That process is expected to be complete in 2015. The organization has developed a raft of other KPIs, maturity models and metrics — a number of which complement the organization’s expanded mission. For example, Energy Reuse Effectiveness (ERE) attempts to quantify the amount of waste heat from a facility that is reused within the facility or by local infrastructure, and green certified renewable energy (Green Energy Coefficient, GEC) provides a measure of the proportion of renewable energy used in the facility. The organization also helps members propose new metrics. For example, datacenter simulation specialist Future Facilities is working with The Green Grid to develop its ACE metric.
  • Geographic reach. The organization is also cognizant of the growth in new datacenter builds, and IT and telecom infrastructure generally, outside of North America and Europe. Around 19% of its members are from Japan and Asia-Pacific countries. The Global Harmonization for Data Center Energy Efficiency group, for example, includes Japan Green IT Promotion Council (GIPC), The China Communication’s Standards Association (CCSA) and the Chinese Institute of Electronics. Representatives of Green Grid China presented a new green datacenter assessment methodology at this year’s forum developed by the China Cloud Computing Promotion and Policy Forum, part of China’s Ministry of IT. More than 17 datacenters in China have been graded using the assessment over the past two years.




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