As calls grow for increasingly granular ESG data, Steve Wright, Chief Operating Officer at 4D Data Centres, now part of the Redcentric plc, explores the role of the data centre in a sustainable future.
- Accessing and reporting relevant ESG data is an increasingly important part of corporate governance.
- New designs and more efficiency practices will be fundamental to effective data management.
- As demand for ESG data grows, data management must evolve beyond to proactive management.
Sustainability is increasingly important in the tech world, with companies now being scrutinised more than ever on what steps they are taking to reduce their energy consumption. Following COP27, we need to see pledges and ambitions turned into actions and implementation as a matter of urgency.
But with global energy prices now reaching an all-time high, what is helping data centre operators ensure their day–to-day operations are not having an impact on the environment?
Digital technologies, and data, are responsible for increasing emissions
According to a study from the European Commission, it is estimated that digital technologies account for between 5% and 9% of global electricity consumption and this figure is likely to increase with the rise of emerging technologies such as AI, IoT and blockchain.
The amount of data being consumed across the world continues to rise every year, resulting in more firms using data centres to store their vital information in a safe and secure way.
Every company wants to play its part in the battle against climate change, especially with an increased emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles. Data centres are an essential part of a sustainable future, and each one must develop suitable efficiency programmes. To achieve a circular economy, data centres need to be conscious about how their facilities are designed in order to meet sustainability goals.
Meeting sustainability goals
Data centre operators strive for a facility with a low Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). Well-established technology developments such as adiabatic, evaporative and liquid cooling are a number of techniques used to reduce energy consumption.
Switching from traditional methods to rack-level, direct to chip cooling also delivers significant advantages such as reduced energy, space and downtime, as well as increased processing capacity.
While it’s regarded as almost impossible to achieve a 1.0 PUE rating, the average ratio for a data centre in 2020 was around 1.58. By adopting and implementing tactics like those mentioned above, operators can make steps towards boosting their sustainability credentials.
Best practices to increase energy efficiency
Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution to achieving an energy-efficient data centre, there are several small things that can significantly decrease energy use. Data centres with better energy-efficiency will be less affected by the rising costs of energy since they use less overall.
Switching to variable-speed fans is one way to decrease energy usage, and power consumption can be decreased by 20% through CPU fan speed reduction. And to make them even more efficient, they only consume power when in use and at required speeds. As these fans run slower during low-CPU utilisation, they can decrease power usage with each non-turning blade.
Liquid cooling is another way to reduce power consumption, particularly for high-performance hardware, and is often regarded as being more effective than air-based cooling methods. Liquid cooling units help CPUs run cooler, which can help reduce the energy consumption.
New designs address temperature challenges
Previously, data centres needed to be kept cool in order for computing hardware to function correctly. More recently, equipment vendors have been designing systems that can operate at higher temperatures, making cooling less necessary.
By raising the ambient temperature a few degrees, there can be an immediate drop in power usage from the cooling system without any effects on server performance. No overhead or investment is needed, although close temperature and server monitoring is advised.
These are just some of the best practices in use at data centres, but one of the most common is moving IT workloads to a cloud or colocation provider to externalise the power consumption to the host site. Hosted services providers often focus on delivering the best value for power at a lower cost for their customers. To reduce Scope 3 emissions, data centres also need to think carefully about their supplier base and how supply chains have an end impact on emissions.
Monitoring price increases and future decreases
The cost-of-energy crisis in the UK has hit every industry hard and by 2030, data centres are projected to account for 3.2% of electricity demand within the EU, a 18.5% jump from 2018.
Data centres have typically negotiated their energy contracts on a 2-3-year fixed rate, or even longer. This ensures that outgoings will be fixed for the duration of that period – both for the data centre and its customers. However, in a market that’s changing as quickly as this one, it’s not easy to find those long-term agreements. Even when you can find a fixed rate, it’s hard to be sure it’s offering optimum value.
New approaches to electricity purchasing are needed
Instead, data centres are looking at Futures and day-ahead markets to get the best possible rates. While it’s a more complicated way of buying electricity, in these volatile markets it can generate significant cost savings compared to fixed-term contracts – savings that data centres can share with their customers.
With any variable contract, there is always the risk of higher prices if costs continue to climb. However, keeping an eye on these markets will also alert data centres to changing market conditions, so that if prices begin to settle and lower, they will be able to get back into a fixed-rate contract that makes sense.
No one knows what might happen to energy prices in the next few years, or even in the next few months due to recent volatilities, especially as the Government’s existing bill protection scheme only runs until the end of March 2023.
While the hope is that energy prices will eventually drop and settle, bringing relief to all the businesses currently paying massively increased energy bills, organisations don’t want to be left with inflated energy prices and they should have commitments from data centres to reduce energy prices if costs drop.
Sustainability and efficiency are critical elements in data management today
In the current climate, sustainability and efficiency must be at the centre of a business’ strategy. It also means putting transparency and collaboration at the heart of the user experience to ensure operations are as seamless as possible while still making an impact on the UK’s climate goals.
It is evident that companies want to play a part in the battle against climate change, and with data centres being a vital part of a sustainable future, reducing energy consumption is here to stay.
With 2023 in front of mind and by making small changes now, decision makers can rest assured that they can keep supporting their customers long term in the best ways possible.