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A sustainable future for the data centre industry

Jul 3, 2019, 12:48:19 PM

This article was first published in the June edition of Digititalisation World Magazine.

While the data centre industry continues to go from strength-to-strength, addressing the environmental impact that an estate can have remains one of the biggest talking points for operators. Ted Pulfer, enterprise and end user consultant at Keysource, explains some of the measures businesses should consider to reduce their carbon footprint.

In an age of heightened environmental awareness, especially where energy consumption is concerned, no business sector in the world can afford to rest on its laurels. For those in the data centre industry, where large amounts of power are required to run today’s digital world, it is even more pertinent.

Recent reports suggest that hyperscale data centres, often consisting of larger estates powered by one operator, already account for over two per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The emergence of 5G technology means this consumption is likely to continue and further research also shows that an anticipated increase of internet connected devices could result in the sector using around a fifth of the world’s energy by 2025.

A greener future

Clearly more needs to be done, and the IT sector as a whole has often been accused of putting talk above action when it comes to addressing environmental issues. But options exist, whether simple or radical, that can make a real difference. 

The EU’s best practice guidelines for data centre energy efficiency, which is compiled by a broad group of vendors, consultants and professional bodies, is a starting point. It outlines the areas of responsibility operators should bear in mind for their estates and the general policies that apply. While useful, however, it doesn’t need to be the only route businesses consider.

Renewable energy can also play a big part in future plans, and many large tech firms have already started mapping out their targets by using it. Take Facebook, which has committed to using 100 per cent renewable energy in its data centre estates by 2020.

Google, on the other hand, has used natural resources to power its 86,000sq. ft Hamina data centre in Finland, utilising 72 Megawatts of wind farm and making use of the surrounding sea water to provide its entire cooling provision, making its facility almost carbon-zero.

While most mid-market operators will struggle to afford to make such drastic changes, they can make a start by installing small-scale measures for self-generated renewable energy from wind farms or solar as part of the data centre estate. These alone can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 30 per cent compared to conventional generation.

Perhaps the most exciting example of sustainability within the industry can be found in Sweden, however. The ‘Boden Type One’ data centre uses machine learning software to reduce server energy consumption by 20 per cent and renewable energy for power, fresh air for its cooling system and has been built with a timber ‘eco-friendly’ design in mind.

Its aim is to become the most energy- and cost-efficient data centre in the world. Learnings from its first year in operation will likely prove hugely useful for the sector when they’re released in March 2020.

The business of sustainability

Some might see it as burdensome and costly, but sustainability actually makes for an appealing business case, both in terms of return on investment and total cost of ownership. Options do exist and at a time of heightened awareness, those in the industry need to be doing all they can to make their estates more green.

Want to know more?

Last year our Head of Innovation, Richard Clifford, spoke to CIBSE Journal about what data centre owners and operators should consider when looking at optimise their estates and the hidden costs associated with them. Read 'The True Cost of Efficiency'

 

Topics: Environment, Sustainability

Ted Pulfer

Written by Ted Pulfer