We must reign in the soaring energy costs and carbon footprint associated with datacentres, says David Wright, a professor at the Telfer School of Management. He has called these hubs of computing power “the smokestack industry of the 21st Century.” And they’re becoming even bigger electricity guzzlers with the proliferation of big data.

But if datacentre managers could automatically determine when and where to carry out data processing activities, it would significantly reduce electricity costs and carbon emissions. That is the vision presented by Professor Wright and his co-author in a new study that looks at how electricity costs and carbon footprint can be reduced by scheduling of workloads in datacentres.

Using information from 5 of these datacentres, located in California, Alberta and Ontario, the study simulated job scheduling and revealed important cost savings and environmental benefits.

Demonstrating this potential for innovation in datacentres is significant at a time when Canada’s two largest provinces have agreed to a climate-change deal and Ontario has signalled the importance of putting a value on carbon.

Project description

Growth of cloud computing stimulates the demand for data centres, causing energy costs and associated carbon emissions to rise. Controlling electric power use in datacentres can happen in two ways. One is developing standards for monitoring and controlling energy use. A further reduction can be achieved by combining energy efficiency measures with workload scheduling policies that allocate jobs to datacentres that have low dollar and/or carbon costs, Trung Le and David Wright report in their study in Sustainable Computing: Informatics and Systems (in press).

The paper develops such an optimization model and demonstrates it on data from California, Alberta and Ontario in order to quantify empirically the extent of the dollar and environmental benefits that can be obtained.

Valuable Canadian experience

The electronics of datacentres draw huge amounts of electricity, not to mention the air conditioning needed to prevent them from overheating. There are calculations showing that, internationally, spending on datacentre power and cooling exceeds $30 billion, comparable to spending on new server hardware. According to one forecast, datacentre carbon footprint from purchased electric power will reach the equivalent of 260 million metric tonnes of CO2 by 2020.

Canada has developed valuable expertise in this area – advanced research led to the introduction of the world’s first standard on greenhouse gas reduction at data centres, from the Canadian Standards Association – and there are good prospects for continuing this leadership.

“Datacentres are an emerging business opportunity for Canada, with its low cost and sustainable energy sources,” Wright explains. “Additional cost savings compared to more southerly locations can be achieved by using outdoor air for cooling during the winter.”