Data CenterPower and Cooling

The New York Times Has an Incomplete Take on Data Centers

It appears The New York Times doesn’t much care for data centers. Last September the Times ran a story that basically accused data centers of wasting power. Now last month the Times was at it again, this time with a story that tries to make the case that data center hosting companies are little more than resellers of electricity and should be viewed as utilities, basically.

We’ve already given a measured response to the September story, but let me try to set the record straight on the most recent one. The story would have readers believe that data center hosting providers offer little more than power for their customers’ servers, and that they charge exorbitant fees for it.

Now, power is certainly a critical element to any data center. But the Times story grossly oversimplifies the service that data center providers offer. As any data center operator knows, power must be both clean and reliable, with multiple layers of redundancy built in to ensure the power doesn’t go out. It takes multiple power feeds, generators, UPS systems, critical cooling systems, PDUs and other tools to provide the kind of clean, reliable power and cooling that IT infrastructure requires. So yes, it costs more than it would if you simply plugged a server into an office outlet and called it a day.

The Times story even acknowledges this fact by quoting folks from two data center hosting providers:

Regardless of the pricing model, Chris Crosby, chief executive of the Dallas-based Compass Datacenters, said that since data centers also provided protection from surges and power failures with backup generators, they could not be viewed as utilities. That backup equipment “is why people pay for our business,” Mr. Crosby said.

Melissa Neumann, a spokeswoman for Equinix, said that in the company’s leases, “power, cooling and space are very interrelated.” She added, “It’s simply not accurate to look at power in isolation.”

Ms. Neumann is exactly right, but the above is as far as the story goes in addressing her points. Essentially, the Times story holds data centers to a different standard that any other industry that factors the cost of commodities, and other costs of doing business, into their pricing model. On top of that, today’s data centers often must be available 24×7 and the simple fact is it costs money to staff a data center around the clock and to ensure it is “always on.”

What bothers me most about the Times story is that it, like the story in September, completely ignores the fact that data center operators for years have been making great strides in making their facilities more energy efficient. It’s a theme that runs through this blog again and again, whether it’s adhering to best practices like hot aisle/cold aisle configurations, taking advantage of economizer mode in cooling units, using air containment systems, innovations in energy management, sustainability and on and on.

Yes, data centers are big consumers of electricity. That’s unavoidable in an age when we need ever more servers and storage systems to deal with a nearly insatiable demand for IT services. But the Times would do well to report on the amazing progress we’re making in ensuring that even as we put more and more demand on our IT systems, energy use is not rising at an equivalent rate – or anywhere near it. That is something to be celebrated, not denigrated.


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