Data centre energy efficiency ‘flatlines’, says Uptime Inst

Data centre energy efficiency ‘flatlines’, says Uptime Institute

15 September 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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The data centre industry has stopped making progress in its power usage over the past seven years.

The Uptime Institute, a globally recognised industry organisation, says in its latest figures (see chart) that improvement in power usage efficiency (PUE) has stalled.

The number, though controversial, is the best metric the industry has in energy usage. The Uptime Institute’s own chart shows this year’s figure of 1.57 has barely moved since 2014.

The Uptime Institute asked data centre operators to specify the average annual PUE of their largest data centre. It was 1.65 in 2014, after a huge improvement over the previous few years, then has hovered between 1.67 and this year’s 1.57.

The institute said: “While PUE does not capture the efficiency of IT, it remains a useful proxy for how much power data centre facilities use in addition to that used by the IT equipment. … Overall, the picture is clear: After large efficiency gains through the first half of the 2010s, average PUEs have remained relatively stable for the past five or so years.”

But the Uptime Institute was blunter in the headline it put on that commentary: “PUE still flatlined”.

Andy Lawrence, executive director of research at the, Uptime Institute, said: “The 2021 survey results highlight continued growth within the sector and the many complex challenges data centre owners and operators are facing today.”

He added: “The stakes have never been higher when it comes to outage prevention, environmental sustainability and overall performance. That’s why organizations must continue to carefully reassess their mission-critical digital infrastructure and operations to minimize service delivery risk and maximize resiliency.”

The institute also commented on the industry’s other vital metrics. “Just 51% of respondents measure water use in some way (mainly at the individual site level instead of across their entire portfolio of facilities),” says the new report. “Less than half of respondents say that they track server utilization, only one-third calculate carbon emission levels and just 25% track e-waste or equipment lifecycle metrics.”

On the positive side, the number of outages has declined. However, the consequences continue to worsen. Half of outages cause substantial financial, operational and reputational damage, says the report. It found 62% of outages cost more than $100,000 – an increase from 56% in 2020 – while 15% of them cost over $1 million.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to hit the industry, along with extreme weather and political factors. These “have caused supply chain interruptions over the past year”. Operators expect problems with the supply of critical data centre products and services in the coming two years. These “will affect capital expenditure projects or IT equipment availability, or both. Just 25% of suppliers believe there will not be any delays or impacts,” says the institute.