It’s time for our whole industry to get behind the green data centre revolution
**By Fabrizio Garrone, Aruba representative on the Board of Directors of Climate Neutral Data Center Pact **
The data centre industry must take steps towards becoming more sustainable, says Fabrizio Garrone, Aruba representative on the Board of Directors of Climate Neutral Data Center Pact. A silver lining of the pandemic is that environmental issues came to the forefront of public discourse, as citizens everywhere experienced the benefits of constrained travel, production, and resource consumption on nature, air quality and climate change. At the same time, however, cloud computing adoption soared because of COVID-19, creating an interesting tension in the traditionally energy-intensive data centre space.
As remote working has become the norm, even more organisations are now relying on outsourced data centre services and cloud computing to support their everyday operations. The servers, backups, and power cooling infrastructure of these accounts for 1% of total yearly global energy use. To put this in context, consider that annual CO2 emissions from data centres equal those of the commercial airline industry at pre-pandemic levels.
In a recent survey of IT industry professionals, 85% predicted that demand for data centre construction would be higher in 2021 than 2020 – a year which was already notable for its high demand. It’s no surprise then, that many are forecasting an unsustainable growth in electricity use and carbon emissions as new data centres continue to get up and running worldwide.
**An emphasis on efficiency ** Pleasingly, vendors and operators have become much more conscious of the importance of energy efficiency. As such, electricity demand from data centres globally is expected to remain flat to 2021, despite a projected 50% increase in workloads.
In the majority of conventional data centres, most energy is consumed through the cooling of servers and backups. Up to 40% of electricity usage goes towards sustaining and operating a server below 26 degrees Celsius. For this reason, Aruba’s Global Cloud Data Centre (IT3) campus in Milan replaces traditional cooling solutions with a geothermal system that uses naturally occurring cold water underground. This system powers all air conditioning for the campus’ data rooms, making it extremely energy efficient. The rack cabinets housing the servers are also equipped with an innovative cold air containment system which ensures maximum energy efficiency.
An increasing number of data centres are making the initial investment in innovative cooling solutions, with the aim of securing significant savings in the long term. For instance, by moving to natural cooling technology, Aberdeen University (UK), improved the power usage effectiveness of its data centre from 2.6 (ranked inefficient) to 1.15 (ranked highly efficient) and is now saving £100,000 per year. Considering that cooling UK data centres alone currently costs an estimated £4-7 billion per annum, the savings of switching to more efficient cooling systems across the board would be significant.
**Committing to renewables ** Maximising energy efficiency is just one side of the equation for data centres; the other is sourcing electricity from low or zero-carbon sources. The significant investment required to roll out and run renewable energy projects has typically made many data centre operators hesitant to take the plunge. However, due to recent advances in technology, increased operational experience, longer project lifetimes and cheaper finance, the cost-per-unit of producing renewable energy has fallen precipitously over the past decade. Notably, the levelized cost of energy – which measures lifetime costs divided by energy production – for solar photovoltaic panels has fallen by 82% (2010-2019).
As such, many data centre operators are now making the leap to self-generation. For instance, Aruba’s Global Cloud Data Centre – the largest, state-of-the-art data campus in Italy – has 60MW of renewable power production capacity onsite. Photovoltaic panels cover the surfaces of the buildings, alongside a purpose-built hydroelectric plant. Where sufficient electricity cannot be generated onsite, it is supplemented by renewable energy from European Guarantee of Origin scheme (GO) certified sources, meaning the campus is 100% powered by renewables.
In addition, our ethos is to continue improving the energy efficiency of our data centres using new technologies that harness the previously untapped potential of the energy used across a data centre, like AI-driven Data Centre Infrastructure Management systems (DCIM) and waste heat recovery and reuse systems.
As we seek to secure our planet for future generations, it’s heartening to see innovations in energy efficiency and renewable energy use happening across the data centre industry. To achieve success, it’s important that operators and vendors hold each other to account through initiatives like the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. The pact’s signatories – which include some of the biggest European Cloud providers – publicly committed to ensuring their European data centres are carbon neutral by 2030, in line with findings from the European Commission’s 2020 report, ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’. The signatories also agreed to provide evidence of their efforts by reporting on efficient energy use, purchases of 100% carbon-free energy, water conservation, server repairs, part recycling, and heat reuse.
Global data centre capacity will undoubtedly expand in the coming years, however, we cannot accept that emissions will grow at the same level. As an energy-intensive industry, we can and should prioritise protecting the environment as we continue to deliver vital data centre and cloud computing services.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Aruba .
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