The rapidly increasing demand for digital processing for everything from online banking to e-Bay auctions, Amazon orders, Google searches, and iTunes and YouTube downloads has become part of the global warming story. A new study just released suggests that large-scale computing facilities, or data centers, are a fast-growing contributor to global warming and a drain on corporate profitability. The result of a year-long collaborative study undertaken by global management consultancy McKinsey & Co. and data center computing research and corporate advisory firm Uptime Institute, the report, entitled “Revolutionizing Data Center Energy Efficiency—Key Analyses,” calls for an immediate overhaul of corporate management practices and a doubling of the energy efficiency of large-scale corporate computing facilities by 2012.

Recommendations by the report’s author, McKinsey & Co., with strong support from Uptime Institute, were made at the Institute’s Symposium 2008: Green Enterprise Computing in Orlando. The Symposium is a global gathering of more than 400 concerned corporate executives, engineers and scientists, and representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. The report makes three primary recommendations that could help corporations double the energy efficiency of data- and network-center computing.

An average data center today consumes energy equivalent to that used by 25,000 American homes, and as a whole, the energy consumption in data centers is almost 0.5 percent of world production. For many industries, data centers are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. If current trends continue unchecked, data center greenhouse gas emissions will quadruple by 2020.

“While the design of the next generation of ‘green’ data centers gets a lot of attention and is certainly a worthwhile pursuit, we’re putting forward the case in this report that improving efficiency in existing sites will lower energy usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions faster and more significantly with less cost,” said Kenneth G. Brill, founder and executive director of Uptime Institute.

To improve energy efficiency in large-scale corporate data centers, the report recommends the following three solutions:

1) Mandate inclusion of true total cost of ownership, including data center facilities, in the business-case justification of new products and applications to throttle excess demand
2) Rapidly mature and integrate asset management capabilities to reach the same par as the security function
3) Formally move accountability for data center critical facilities expense and operations to the CIO and appoint an internal "Energy Czar" with an operations and technology mandate to double IT energy efficiency by 2012

To achieve the recommended doubling of energy efficiency, McKinsey and Uptime suggest that equipment manufacturers and industry groups establish uniform metrics, along the lines of the metrics used for automobile fuel consumption, that will measure the individual and combined energy efficiency of corporate, public-sector- and third-party-hosted data centers.