The European Commission has launched a code of conduct for data centres, in an effort to tackle their increasing power consumption, and minimise the related environmental, economic and energy supply impacts.

It was back in February, that the European Commission said it was considering introducing a voluntary code of conduct on energy efficiency for data centre operators.

The code has now been formally launched, and was welcomed by Lord Hunt, Minister for Sustainable Development and Energy Innovation, who is hoping to encourage data centre operators to adopt the code.

"If we are to tackle dangerous climate change, we need to reduce emissions and the decision businesses make play a key role in meeting this challenge," he said. "By signing up to this new Code of Conduct companies can save energy and save money too, which goes to show that what's good for the environment is good for business."

Data centres are thought to be responsible for almost 3 percent of electricity use in the United Kingdom, and as the UK is the first country in the world to set legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the British government is hoping the Code will help it achieve the ambitious target of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2050, as well as avoid a looming 'energy crunch' that has been touted by some.

The government thinks that the Code should help save 4.7 million tonnes of CO2 over the next 6 years. This is equivalent to taking more than a million cars off the road. Indeed, Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) will be seeking compliance for the main IBM data centre used by Defra systems within the next 12 months.

Backers of the Code tout the fact that it was developed in close collaboration with the industry, including the British Computer Society (BCS).

"The BCS believes that Code is an important step in developing an effective understanding of IT energy use and the development of best practice to improve efficiency," said Bob Harvey, chair of the British Computing Society Carbon Footprint group.

The Code is a European wide voluntary initiative aimed to develop energy efficiency performance standards for data centres. Participants are expected to commit to implementing a subset of expected best practice and to annually report energy consumption. This might mean companies decommissioning old servers, reducing the amount of air conditioning they use, or maximise the use of a server by running multiple applications.

Version 1 of the Code can be found here.

A number of organisations have already indicated their intention to sign up to the Code, including Quest Software and IOMart. Meanwhile The Green Grid (a consortium pushing energy efficiency in data centres) has publically indicated its support.

"There is an increasing focus on costs in the data centre. And the major cost in a data centre is energy," said Joe Baguley, CTO at enterprise system management vendor Quest Software. Baguley and Quest have been in heavily involved in the development of the code, alongside the BCS.

"The code is all about controlling costs, and reducing the impact on the environment," he added. Baguley says the code is evidence that the industry is "regulating itself, before it gets regulated."

"The document contains regulations and best practises," he said. "It combines knowledge and expertise from many sources and many experts - into best practise guide. It shows companies what options can be effective in their environments."

He pointed out that new technologies such as virtualisation, bring a number of challenges to the industry, especially as virtual environments can make it more difficult to apportion cost to a service. Quest says that its Foglight product can help organisations monitor and manage critical applications and services.

"We would like to see this code driving application vendors to talk about the performance of their applications, in terms of performance per watt, like hardware vendors. That would be quite cool," he said.

Earlier this week, analyst house Gartner came up with its own list of best practices in the data centre, designed to save electricity and improve cooling.