While a zero-emissions cloud remains a pipe dream in the minds of some — due to the residual emissions linked to electricity consumption, server manufacturing or even network infrastructures — creating a roadmap to reduce avoidable emissions by using eco-friendly providers can have a significant impact on the carbon footprint of cloud usage and data centres.
The data centre industry’s heavy reliance on power has historically used operational efficiency as a proxy for sustainability. Until now. A greener data centre can see businesses reap several benefits.
Sustainability to (data) centre
We expect to see a significant shift in the uptake of green technologies to meet the goal of converting to 100% renewable energy in the industry in the next few years.
Sustainable data centres (SDC) – also known as ‘green data centres’ – that provide the same functions and capabilities as a typical data centre, are more efficient and are designed to have minimal effect on the environment and contribute to meeting this goal.
Since reducing the amount of electricity required to operate a data centre has increasingly become a top priority for the industry, these sustainable data centres operate using minimal power resources and maximal energy efficiency. As data centre cooling often contributes to the main energy consumption, water cooling remains the best option to accommodate denser workloads and data volumes, reducing physical footprint; especially for cooling high computing solutions such as AI, ML or blockchain technologies. Some cloud providers are already deploying water cooling solutions for more than 15 years but we can expect a global shift to immersive cooling solutions with more providers working on them.
The economies of scale of an SDC are extremely significant. An SDC reduces operating costs, reflected through less consumption of energy and water.
Besides reaping benefits such as cost reduction and increased efficiency, sustainability benefits will also be passed on to the businesses and consumers who collectively benefit from the data centre’s green infrastructure. In other words, we create a sustainable supply and value chain.
The unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have helped the global business community reconsider its priorities and undertake the responsibility of building a sustainable world. Now, more than ever, it is critical to adopt strategies that drive innovative solutions and avoid adverse impacts on the environment.
Data centre dilemma
Worldwide, data centres account for two per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions – on par with the airline industry. Some project that the rising use of the internet will see data centre energy usage surpassing 10 per cent of the global electricity supply by 2030. For the industry, which is single-handedly responsible for at least one per cent of global energy consumption, environmental sustainability must take centre stage with a newer and more innovative approach.
With today’s data deluge in a digital-first economy, data centre operators need to evaluate ways to manage resource consumption and other rising costs spanning from electricity and possible carbon taxes. Modern data centres must be designed and upgraded to adapt to the changing requirements of today’s digital environment.
As a result, and due to the increasing demands, it’s been critical for operators to rethink ways to enhance performance and even reduce their carbon footprint with the help of technological advancements and industry certifications that ultimately improve competitiveness.
Clean cloud powering the future
We are seeing organisations continuously making commitments to be carbon neutral, with progress seen to limit the environmental impact of their operations. Increasingly, providers are looking to reduce IT component waste, better optimise data centre energy consumption and develop innovative, more effective cooling systems.
With the challenges of climate change now at our doorstep, it is no longer an option to ignore alternative, more sustainable options. Industries must continue to manage environmental impact with full accountability to move towards a better future.
Whilst implementing measures is critical, data centres must monitor their output across key environmental indicators such as power, water and carbon usage, keeping within suitable parameters. To have a sustainable model, the industry not only has to look at carbon and power efficiency but also at water unit efficiency for effective water cooling.
We all have a role to play in addressing the major societal, environmental and social challenges of our time. The goal is to think and act differently to change the status quo and seek to make a positive contribution to the environment and stakeholders, encouraging other organisations to do the same and benefit from those changes.