Most things in life require energy. From the refrigerator and the microwave to the iPhone and the iPad; nearly everything we touch uses some form of embedded energy. Cloud computing is no different, except in one crucial respect: it’s the most efficient — and energy-efficient — form of computing yet invented.
This fact is worth keeping in mind amid the confusion spread lately by some writers who observe that cloud data centers consume lots of electricity and assume that’s a negative development. Rackspace uses 0.00081 percent of the world’s energy to deliver one of the most innovative and flexible cloud portfolios that provides social and economic benefits for over 180,000 customers.
Of the more than 7 billion people on the planet, 80 percent have access to electricity, 75 percent have cell phones and yet only 35 percent have Internet access. It’s an unprecedented time of global innovation and instantaneous knowledge sharing. Computing and data center companies continue to meet the demand to connect, communicate and exchange information. Innovations like the cloud are key to insuring that growth becomes more efficient.
We at Rackspace think about sustainability in a holistic manner, and we want to share a few thoughts specifically about how we think about the power we use. We are specialists in driving infrastructure at scale. It’s at the core of our business.
Rackspace is acutely aware of the cost of power. It’s one of our biggest expenses. We actively manage energy spending to drive value for customers and efficiency for our business. Every watt Rackspace uses is tracked — It came from somewhere (a power company, a generator) and it went somewhere (an office, a data center to power a server or power infrastructure). Understanding our power use helps us identify new ways to conserve resources – both natural and financial. Our Global Energy Team comprises sustainability, finance, sourcing and data center experts and sets the company strategy and policy focused on renewable energy, advocacy and efficiency.
Rackspace purchases 25 percent renewable energy worldwide (and our UK data center and office are powered by 100 percent renewable energy). We evaluate existing and potential data center sites to understand our impact before we invest and built it into our long term plans. We evaluate sources of purchasing additional renewable energy and generating renewable energy to move more of our energy demand off the grid completely.
We continually take steps to improve energy efficiency and reduce consumption of other natural resources. Whenever possible, we select data centers in cooler climates and choose energy efficient facilities and hardware allowing us to deliver more computing performance per watt. Our recently announced data center in Australia will be among our most efficient.
When it comes to our product portfolio, our Global Infrastructure Team matches the expected workloads to the hardware and infrastructure build-outs to look at reliability and performance per watt. This approach drives efficiency throughout our operation — from building location and materials, HVAC, power distribution, containment, virtualization and compute performance per watt. Even the software that runs on machines makes each generation of computing more efficient. We expect our work with The Open Compute Project to yield additional benefits in this area going forward.
One thing that really has moved the needle for efficiency is virtualization. It lets us consolidate the work of many systems to function on fewer servers and delivers efficiencies in memory, hard drives and processors, as well as in power consumption. Our annual reports indicate that from 2009 to 2011 our total customers have grown by 90 percent but our number of servers has grown by only 41 percent.
Our advocacy strategy enables us to work with upstream partners and providers to continue to improve the long term outlook of reliable, affordable clean energy. We see it as a way to sustainably deliver value to our customers.
On-site generators provide important back-up power for our data centers, but part of our efficiency strategy is to NOT run them unless we need to. Given total costs to purchase, maintain, test and fuel them, generators are more expensive per KWH than purchasing power off the grid. They are a backup plan used by mission critical services in cities, hospitals and factories around the world in case they’re needed for short amounts of time. No one running a mission critical enterprise wants to be on backup power for very long. As a company, we track our emissions from power, generators, business travel and even the commute Rackers take to work. It’s all part of the bigger picture: emissions matter and continually driving down our intensity is an important business metric.
Bottom line: Power is integral to our customers, we take it seriously and we manage it well.
P.S. Rackspace was also recently named to the 2012 Dow Jones Sustainability North American Indexes (DJSI), which rates the 2,500 largest companies in the Dow Jones Global Index based on economic, environmental and social performance. I’ll talk about that more in my next post.