HPE, Academia, and Industry Launch New Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label

At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, an alliance of academia and industry representatives announced the Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label with the initial goal to decarbonize data centers in Switzerland and significantly reduce their overall energy consumption. Initiated by industry association digitalswitzerland and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the alliance has founded the Swiss Datacenter Efficiency Association (SDEA), which will own the assessment and award process for the label.

Founding members of SDEA include École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Green IT Switzerland, HPE, the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU), the Swiss Data Center Association (Vigiswiss), and the Swiss Telecommunications Association (ASUT). The initiative is supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy through the program SwissEnergy.

Ten pilot users implemented energy-efficient technologies and procedures to achieve compliance with the criteria of the Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label. This led to energy savings of up to 7%, with five of the pilot users employing 100% carbon-neutral energy sources. The Canton of Geneva plans to include some of the key requirements of the label into their next energy-efficiency law as a basis for the construction of new data centers. The goal is to drive adoption across Switzerland, and the label will also be presented to the European Commission and the United Nations in an effort to leverage the Swiss model for global impact.

“We are witnessing a paradigm shift in IT, whereby conventional silicon technologies that historically resulted in doubling in chip density and efficiency every 2 years for 5 decades have reached their physical limits,” said Babak Falsafi, professor in the School of Computer and Communication Sciences and founding director of the EcoCloud, an industrial/academic consortium at EPFL. “As a result, sustained IT performance growth can only come from building more infrastructure, including data centers with closer proximity to the data sources at the edge. Hence, this label comes timely to help guide hosts towards energy sustainable IT.”

Data centers globally currently account for 1% of global electricity consumption, but the share is much higher in attractive data hosting countries like Switzerland, where the energy use of data centers was estimated to be 2.8% of the country’s total electricity consumption in 2015. Considering the exponential growth of data volumes and data traffic in the next years, methodologies for measuring and managing data center efficiency are needed to significantly reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption.

“Today’s methodologies are looking at isolated aspects of data center efficiency and sustainability, none of which capture the overall energy and carbon footprint,” said Christopher Wellise, chief sustainability officer, HPE. “The Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label, on the other hand, takes a holistic approach by considering all sources of energy consumption and energy supply, as well as the reuse of energy consumed. Hence, it provides the missing links to enable data center operators, industry associations and governments to measure and control the real climate impact of digital infrastructures.”

The Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label is awarded for excellence in energy efficiency and environmental sustainability of data center infrastructures and their containing IT infrastructures. This includes three key components. The "data center infrastructure award criteria" apply to the entire energy flow, from ingest to output, including recycling capabilities of output energy (such as using thermal discharge to heat other buildings). The "IT infrastructure award criteria" apply to energy-efficient IT technology and effective IT usage. Depending on their compliance with the efficiency criteria, data centers can be awarded with a gold, silver or bronze label. In case of compliance with the "environmental sustainability criteria," which apply to the carbon footprint, a “plus” tag is added to the awarded level.

The SDEA will continuously update the criteria of the Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label to reflect the high pace of change and innovation in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector.