The EU standardizes data center sustainability assessment: are the criteria relevant?

The EU standardizes data center sustainability assessment: are the criteria relevant?
The EU standardizes data center sustainability assessment: are the criteria relevant?

The European Commission recently adopted new regulations aimed at assessing the sustainability of data centers in the European Union. This is a framework intended to standardize the method of evaluating the energy efficiency of data centers, specifies the institution’s press release. The evaluation system uses several criteria. In line with the new Energy Efficiency Directive, this legislation requires data center operators to report key performance indicators to a dedicated European database, by September 15, 2024, then annually from May 15, 2025 .

What criteria are taken into account by the EU?

The regulation, which applies to all data centers above 500 kW, follows a public consultation. The text states that the information to be communicated will be used to provide “transparent and evidence-based planning and decision-making” and to “evaluate certain key elements of a sustainable data center”. Performance indicators include the surface area of ​​the hosting infrastructure, the power and the volumes of data processed. While the specific data center sustainability indicators considered are: Energy Use Efficiency (PUE), Water Use Efficiency (WUE), Energy Reuse Factor (ERF), Renewable Energy Factor (REF).

Relevant metrics?

Is the framework put in place by the EU to measure the energy efficiency of data centers relevant? According to expert Babak Falsafi, contacted by the editorial staff, this is not the case. The president of the Swiss Datacenter Efficiency Association (SDEA), professor at EPFL, regrets that the chosen metrics are still based on PUE (for Power Usage Effectiveness), an indicator that appeared in 2007 whose limits have already frequently been pointed out. finger (read on this subject the contribution of Babak Falsafi published on our site in 2022). The other indicators taken into account by the EU are to a certain extent relevant, in the eyes of the president of the SDEA, who nevertheless emphasizes that an integrated indicator, such as the PUE+ imagined by the SDEA, provides more clarity than several factors considered separately. Above all, the measures adopted by the European Commission have the disadvantage of not taking into account the question of the efficiency of information technologies, which accounts for around 80-85% of the total electricity consumption of data centers, Babak Falsafi observes. An analysis which is similar to that presented by Nvidia in a recent blog article.

Take into account the useful production of a data center

The company that supplies the GPU chips that enabled the rise of AI suggests that data centers should be able to have improved measurement to show progress in running real applications. “PUE has served data centers well during the rise of cloud computing, and it will continue to be useful. But it falls short in today’s generative AI era, when workloads and the systems that run them have evolved significantly,” Nvidia notes. Who adds that the PUE does not measure the useful production of a data center, but only the energy it consumes. However, the important thing for data center operators is to be able to have indicators that calculate, among other things, the utilization rate and the workloads involved in carrying out a given application task.

“It’s like measuring the quantity of gasoline consumed by an engine without taking into account the distance traveled by the car,” illustrates the graphics processor manufacturer. Babak Falsafi also offers an allegory, taking the example of a washing machine labeled A+: although it may be efficient, running it empty is a waste of energy. Indicators should therefore be based on a measure of the efficiency of energy use during operations. A task carried out by the SDEA to develop an index for operators.

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