Roundtable: Everybody needs good NABERS

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This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of CRN magazine.

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Roundtable: Everybody needs good NABERS

CRN sat down recently with a group of leading voices in the data centre industry to discuss the expansion of the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) to data centres. What’s clear is there are  implications and opportunities for the IT channel to help customers understand the environmental and business benefits of compliance.

ATTENDEES

  • Caroline Residovic, senior program officer, NABERS
  • Jacques Tesson, CEO, DPSA
  • Greg Scholten, NSW branch manager, Southern Cross Computer Systems
  • Frank Roberson, senior project officer, NABERS 
  • Jason Rylands, DC architect, DPSA
  • Andrew Kirker, sales director,  APC by Schneider Electric
  • Andrew Sylvester, DC software sales, Pacific, APC by Schneider Electric
  • Ian Porter, general manager, iSeek
  • Greg Boorer, managing director, Canberra Data Centres

CRN  What’s the background of the national Australian Built Environment Rating System? How critical is it for companies in the IT space to understand how it works and the implications for designing technology environments?

Caroline  We worked very closely with industry and key players from the data centre sector, because like us, they felt that there was a real need for the drive towards energy efficiency in the sector,. Really, the environmental benefit and financial benefit go hand in hand with energy.

If you look at many of the official surveys in Australia, we’re not really measuring or monitoring energy use. A lot of companies and organisations just don’t know what their ICT parameters are when really the first step is having an understanding of energy consumption compared to your peers. That’s what NABERS provides. The tool that requires you to measure your energy consumption and provide information on whether you’re performing well or if there are opportunities to improve or provide that transparency. That’s what we are hoping to develop.

Andrew Kirker  Regarding that measuring and monitoring, is it changing do you think? I agree with you, a few years ago people were just not into measuring or monitoring things, but I’m really surprised at what’s happening now. Yesterday a very large telco put out a tender for a really granular monitoring solution, which I saw as being a change in thinking.

Caroline  I think there is a change in thinking, definitely.

Frank  If you look at the Fujitsu ICT Sustainability Report as a benchmark, they tend to find that, at the moment at least, even if things are changing, the reporting at the moment is not great. Even if people are stepping up their reporting, having a system which allows fair comparison, so that people are reporting in the same way, is really valuable. And by condensing a lot of information about a data centre into something that non-engineers can understand, the people who make the decision financially for the consumers, can say ‘I’ll have a five star on those please’. So even though it’s great that people are stepping up that reporting, having this framework is really good.

Andrew Kirker  Take it down to a cultural level. Australia is a very goal oriented country and people like to be working to a target, and it’s a performance culture that we live in. Even in our personal lives people are starting to take a more active role. I was showing off my latest gadget which is one of these exercise and health monitoring things. It monitors your sleep patterns, exercise levels, food intake, and so we have to tell it, it doesn’t know what you ate, it doesn’t know that I just had too much for breakfast.  But I think culturally people are changing.  You know we were talking about the GPS Exercise Watches and goals and racing against yourself and that kind of thing, so I think at a cultural level there’s an undercurrent there.

People like to know where they are; people like to compete and I think that’s something that these sorts of tools allow – you can get a bit of healthy competition between people around how efficient their facility is.

Andrew Sylvester  There are more people doing monitoring, but I’m not sure that they’re actually getting the quality of information out of that monitoring and doing something with it. You’re seeing these reports coming out which aren’t as good as they could be. Maybe it’s the quality of the information they’re collecting, or how they’re interpreting that information and monitoring that. They can then take that into information that’s used for making much better decisions about how they manage their data centres, and energy and so on. If you get right back to basics, legacy data centres, new data centres, buildings have to have what I call ‘smart’ infrastructure, smart devices that actually can be monitored, that’s the first thing. 

My experience is that there are a lot of customers out there in data centres who still don’t have a lot of smart infrastructure that can be monitored, or they’re monitoring it through inadequate means.  So they have to upgrade that basic infrastructure first before they can start to move up.

Greg Boorer  NABERS is very educational in that it’s prescriptive of how things are measured, where the metering and monitoring needs to be positioned across the data centre eco systems to ensure that accurate measurements and monitoring can be achieved. So if anything, it’s a good guide for the people on what they need to do and where to start.

CRN  Ian, we were discussing recently the monitoring tools in the market at the moment and you remarked that there’s quite a long way to go before they reach acceptable levels of maturity.

Ian  Yes, whilst there are some of these devices on the market, they’re not necessarily used quite as well as they could be or should be.

CRN So it’s more about understanding the capabilities of technology as opposed to the technologies themselves?

Ian  Yes. I think everybody is going down the same path. Everyone wants to do the same thing and make data centres more efficient, and nobody wants to spend money they don’t have. But when you build and run a data centre, sometimes changing that infrastructure to implement those things is a lot more difficult than it may seem. It’s quite a big operation, not to mention the capital outlay to make it happen as well.

Andrew Sylvester  You have got to make a commercial decision upfront about how you want to invest and what that return’s going to be over time, because you can make a decision to buy a PDU (power distribution unit) for example that’s going to cost you $100 or you can spend $250 on a PDU to get all the smarts. The capital outlay upfront has got to be taken into account in terms of the return you’re going to get for the life of your data centre in three years or five years’ time. It’s important to build the ROI, the business value proposition first before you make that capital investment, especially around energy management. Needs drive business and economic return over time, starting with the core infrastructure.

Frank  One thing I’d add like to highlight is NABERS energy for offices. Obviously it provides an incentive for people to buy energy efficient equipment, but because it’s a scheme of operational performance, it also encourages managers to manage the building well. It’s one thing to buy really efficient chillers, but also to make sure that the building’s commissioned well and that it’s managed well. You don’t really get that with design rating tools. If you get a point for putting in the super-efficient whatever it is, and then it’s run 24 hours a day, you don’t get any penalty for that. Whereas if we’re talking 12-monthly energy bills, if you’re not managing it well, that highlights the behavioural side of things.

Andrew Kirker  So often we design things to be very energy efficient, but the commissioning is absolutely critical. The site acceptance testing and getting the thing set up right, and constantly tweaking the facility to get the best out of it, even down to seasonal variances, load variances and so on, is very important. We’re building a lot of much larger data centres these days. When they’re first commissioned - and if the load is very light - if they haven’t got decent modularity in them, they’re really a problem, because you’ve got huge amounts of equipment running and the energy rating would be shocking. I’ve seen some really, really scary stuff.

Ian  Reflecting on latest announcement from the ANU with their new super computer, the compute power that’s been put into this data centre, their energy bill is around the $12 million dollar mark a year to run this high performance computing environment. That is a very high performance environment operating within a data centre that has to be managed down to the nth degree. Any small variance either way with energy or cooling; any of these factors within the data centre will impact performance of that dual computing environment. 

CRN  I imagine the challenge is initiating the conversation with your customers about energy efficiency, and the importance of getting it right from the ground up?

Jason  One of the things our partners tend to ask about is best practice and they’re always looking for conversations that they can have with their customers. How do they do that, what are the steps? The NABERS tool is a very good way to come in and start a conversation with their customers. Previously we had some very ambiguous tools. The PUE (power usage effectiveness) tool for example. What’s your IT load in your plant load, what was included, what wasn’t included? There were a lot of figures coming out on that and it was a very difficult tool to justify. The NABERS tool gives us a frameset so that we can actually have the conversation with the customer through the channel, so the reseller can actually start talking to the customer about what they should be doing in the data centre.

One of the large opportunities for the channel is to help their customers get ready for a NABERS assessment, so when you start to look at what’s required, there’s a lot of monitoring, metering and data collection required. If you look at the different ratings that NABERS has you have an IT equipment-only rating, there’s a whole of infrastructure rating, and there’s a few different ratings you have to look at. For example if you’re doing the IT equipment rating, there’s a month’s worth of data you need to capture. Now how does that customer do that? There’s a lot of products that get in through the channel to allow that to be done or make it easier or actually have it done. Things like metered and monitored PUEs, environmental monitoring. The data centre software is quite important in this scenario. So when we start to talk about energy efficiency, we talk about ‘where are we now?’ And then if we start to make changes, what energy efficiency changes would we expect, but how do we actually quantify those? So if you’re not measuring / monitoring metering when you’re making changes, you might be actually making it worse. That’s the conversation we tend to have with our customers. We need to start putting in the basics. That’s the metering and then we can start to make changes, and then we can adjust and tweak. So, when something is commissioned and you start to add more equipment in, that’s when you can start making the adjustments. NABERS is a really good tool for the channel to start and go and have a conversation with the customers.

Andrew Sylvester  You can’t just look at the facility and you can’t just look at IT. I’ve been in the facility and IT industry for 20 years, and often IT and facilities people don’t talk that well. It isn’t improving a lot, but this is a classic example where at a macro level IT and facilities are needing to really work together to get the facility from an IT and facility standpoint to work together. In terms of partnering, organisations like Schneider and DPSA are generally pretty focused on the facility side of things. Yes we are in the IT industry, but we’re on the facilities end of the spectrum, and you know obviously software is changing some of that as well. Partnership opportunities are really strong for organisations that have got strong facilities roots, and organisations with strong IT roots, working together.

CRN  Are you finding that Greg Scholten?

Greg Scholten  Yes. We spend a lot of time helping customers monitor and manage their IT. And the facility stuff is getting a lot more sophisticated. Storage and PUE has always been part of the business cases, but they remain very isolated. The individual managers of those groups put it in the business case as it goes up to the large enterprise customers and gets signed off. They’re always comparing apples and apples and whether it’s monitoring the VMware or monitoring storage or monitoring your chiller, it’s all really interesting. But there’s not a lot of co-ordination between the groups. In my opinion it’s a CIO issue that’s not really valued in some respects. We’ve sold solutions where you can go to a customer and say ‘what are your mission critical applications?’ and you monitor every level. You monitor the application, the users, the user’s experience, all the way down to the data centre racks. But in my experience, even the banks who are effectively in the application online business, they usually rely on users to tell them when the system’s not there as opposed to software, and then it’s the isolated component. There needs to be a lot more incentive for these companies to actually co-operate across those different modular pieces.

Caroline  NABERS tools bring a lot of stakeholders together, combining a common language that everyone can understand. Certainly we hope that will happen in the data centre space.

Andrew Kirker  NABERS has done a good job in identifying key components that have helped drive energy management. Things around progress, technology as well as changing behaviours within organisations. Resellers can actually bring value in those three areas. There’s probably a bit more can be done around progress, because it’s not about one thing – it’s not just about having good technology without having the other two components. Also about how do we have clients drive behaviour changes within the organisations themselves?

There are partners out there that might be completely outside of IT. There are other partners that can bring and add value; to help change behaviours, implement change management programs, even up to the CSO level. It’s a different level, it’s about selling energy management as opposed to selling PEUs and tools and things.

CRN  Back to the issues of disconnect between facilities and the IT managers, what advice Jacques would you give to resellers to broker more co-ordination between the two?

Jacques  Well, the regular channel has to have credibility with the end user. NABERS provides a beautiful opportunity for partners to turn themselves from being sales people or perceived as trying to sell something to their client to being an educator. They can provide their client with NABERS awareness, using NABERS as a tool to find out what the application of the end user is. Because it all starts with an application and so the output of the application also is affected by power issues. 

You might have a CRM application, online banking, online bookings running a check every week. It’s important to keep track of what systems are doing and supporting.

The reseller needs to have credibility, because they cannot allow the economic environment to be taken over by the vendor, the manufacturers. They have to be the advocates of their own technology, educate the market, otherwise they are just perceived as a salesman trying to make a buck. We advocate design changing, we’ve been running training and education about energy efficiency. We pre-warned people about the effects of the carbon tax before it was implemented and then after.

Greg Boorer  If I was in the channel I would be very excited about NABERS, because there are not too many opportunities that come along that enable you to raise the point of contact in the organisation. To many people, the channel is a necessary evil. You go to them for widgets and things, but not necessarily strategic advice. So a couple of general players could morph into having serious discussions at a C-level as opposed to further down the stream, and that will generally generate higher value outcomes for channel partners.

You only have to create a little bit of fear within the organisation and then there are multiple outcomes. Each of the outcomes could be good for the channel partner if they position themselves correctly. The way you would get your foot in the door you would say ‘well look what’s happened with office ratings over time’ and if you don’t have an efficient office rating then you’re out of business. So what are you Mr C-level doing about your data centre today? And believe you me, it might not be today or tomorrow, but this will become a very important thing in Australia, so you have to start re-positioning. That could be remediation, or helping them with whole new construction build activities. I wouldn’t fear cloud type things, you might be able to provide consulting advice on how to move to some of those platforms or even review the viability of moving to those platforms, or help them migrate into a purpose-built data centre. So there’s multiple outcomes that you could be across and you could position yourself that you’re a winner regardless. But you could also have higher value conversations and make friends in higher places. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the channel.

Jason  I agree. I’d like to ask people here, are you getting asked by your customers about NABERS ratings for your facility, or are the state and federal agencies asking about NABERS?

Greg Boorer  I’m a guinea pig. All my contracts are Federal Government. They will have a NABERS mandatory reporting clause, and mandatory disclosure in them. So I have nothing to fear, I’m looking forward to it, I plan to use it as a sales tool and a differentiator in the marketplace and say ‘look all these other people actually talk about design PUEs and they can manipulate and have PUE guarantees where they guarantee that you will only pay a certain percentage of the ITT bill and they’ll absorb the rest. 

That’s not actually a guaranteed PUE, but there’s actually contracts that are written like that, where they actually get you in another way to recover their money. So I think NABERS is a wonderful thing, and my federal government agencies, every single one of them, every single month has to report the PUE of my facility today, to finance the central agency. They also have to report their overall energy consumption and ITT. It’s super granular and one of the reasons why we’re making our DCIM (data centre information management) solutions even more sophisticated to make them even more automated. We’re putting web portals in so that people can generate these automatically. Clients can log on to the web portal and download their reports automatically. This is an absolute cornerstone of our business going forward and our ability to differentiate based on our fantastic efficiency that we have now.

Ian  I guess I’d have to say the opposite to Greg really because I don’t have too many customers asking about NABERS ratings at all.

Greg Boorer  Enjoy it while it lasts.

Ian  Customers are talking more around PUE and their drive mark, however we are very open to the NABERS ratings and we are only a year old data centre at the moment. But we’re doing pretty well from a PUE perspective today. We investigated the NABERS side of things late last year to see how we would go, and we’re keen to push forward with that now.

Jacques  You have people like us looking at the environment and we have clients who give them advice and it’s the needs of those clients to the data centres. You have to be prepared, because if you have a beautiful PUE automatically it could mean that you might be pretty good with NABERS.

Ian  A lot of customers ask questions about NABERS, but to be frank they’re probably more keen to understand the resilience of their data, because at the end of the day they don’t want their servers to fall over, and that’s higher up the agenda than the green question.

CRN  Is there an awareness gap in terms of the potential cost savings from being more energy efficient. Do companies still view it as a ‘green’ issue as opposed to a financial issue?

Ian  No, I think that people appreciate that. I don’t think they’re ignorant of that fact, rather the question of how does it actually translate.

Greg Scholten  It comes back to the fundamentals. For instance, is there culturally an issue internally? Perhaps not with government customers, but certainly in most of the commercial customers, where there’s not a lot of charge-back or cost allocation of power back to the business units themselves. They may be paying for their IT infrastructure, they may not. But how granular is that, and therefore how much of an incentive is there to do that? If it becomes a tax issue then all of a sudden we’re talking everybody’s language rather than just a regulatory requirement.

Andrew Sylvester  The question comes down to the conversations you’re having with your clients. Are these IT guys.  Are they facilities guys? Are they executive guys? 

Ian  Sure, there’s a variety of different people that come and see us on the data centre tours. But will they actually buy the service? The conversation does sway slightly differently whether you’re talking to finance directors, managing directors etc. But again if you order the breakdown of what they’re looking for, NABERS isn’t first and foremost, it’s not that it’s not important to them.

Andrew Sylvester  I’m seeing two new emerging roles coming into the market. One is like an energy manager or sustainability manager, and these guys tend to be reporting into the CFO rather than IT or facilities. So maybe it’s about having the conversation with the C-level audience around this energy piece and the new energy role coming in and looking at the whole facility and whole energy budget within an organisation.

Greg Boorer  Everyone has different drivers based on their responsibilities in the organisation. But what you want to do is have a big bag of tricks and pull everything out, and you want to pull availability out, efficiency; you want to pull the operational benefits of ‘we do all these additional services for you free of charge’ and all these things. If you look at the takeup of the NABERS tool for offices, it’s bubbled along for 10 years, and then government introduced aminimum rating to go into office buildings. Now, the takeup of the NABERS rating went through the roof then, because government is such a large procurer of office space generally. If I’m building something today or thinking about it, I really need to consider where this is going to go. The federal government and state government here are absolutely motivated to improve the efficiency in this particular industry segment. Therefore in 10 years’ time if you’re not in good shape, you’re not going to be in good shape. So it’s something you need to talk about now for sure.

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