When will Power Costs Exceed Labors Costs in the Data Center

Reading this post about Eco-friendly Skies brings up the point that energy costs exceed labors costs for the airline industry. It may take a while for the Data Center to reach this point, or it may depend on how you count your staff. If you count only the staff to run the physical infrastructure of the data center, this point may have already reached for many. Maybe this is a way to get the attention of executives how big electricity bills are.

On my flight out to Seattle to research Boeing's advances, I pause as I leave the plane to ask the pilot if flying any differently could reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. He sets me straight. "It's not about greenhouse gases," he says. "It's all about fuel burn." From 2000 to 2007, the price of aviation fuel in the U.S. swelled by 115.6 percent, and fuel has topped labor as the number-one operating cost of the airline industry. Airlines, always concerned about fuel costs, are now obsessed with them. The nearest-term way airlines can reduce this expense (and reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions in the process) is to change how planes are flown.

Also the obsession with performance vs. efficiency is illustrated by this Boeing story.  Wouldn't it be great if server vendors picked up the Airbus/Boeing practice of being accountable for the energy efficiency promised?  When the 787 ships, if the customers don't achieve the promised energy efficiency, then Boeing is forced to account for the lack of efficiency.

Jeff Hawk, the Boeing Environment and Certification director who has worked on the 787 since 2002. He says that before the Dreamliner, Boeing had been planning to build a faster plane. He pulls out an off-white model of the original design, the Sonic Cruiser, which looks like a cousin to the Concorde. The Sonic Cruiser, streamlined like a barracuda, was to fly at the edge of the speed of sound.

"On a transatlantic flight, it would save about an hour or two," Hawk says. "It flew 20 percent faster but produced the same amount of fuel burn." The design concept crumbled when the airline industry was blindsided by the September 11 attacks in 2001. Passengers avoided the skies, and the industry lost $25 billion in just three years. Meanwhile, fuel prices crept upward and fuel efficiency became a top priority. Boeing decided to divert technologies being used to build a faster plane into building a more fuel-efficient one. Composite material planned for the Sonic Cruisers—carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic that's 70 percent the weight of aluminum—was carried over to the 787.

Engineers squeezed every efficiency they could from the airplane's classic shape. Among other tricks, they created a longer and thinner wing to generate more lift and less drag. As one part of the airplane became more fuel-efficient, so did the next. "If you have a low-drag airplane, you can use a much more efficient engine," Hawk explains. "That less-powerful engine is smaller. It's lighter too. A smaller engine means less drag. Instead of 20 percent faster, we were 20 percent more fuel-efficient." That efficiency has been a major selling point. Boeing has pre-sold 738 airplanes to 51 customers, making it the most successful release of a commercial jet in the company's history. It's also good for global warming, Boeing says, because 20 percent less fuel burn translates into 20 percent less greenhouse gas produced.