Venessa Moffat, general manager, data centers of sustainability AI business QiO, analyses three key challenges that data centers are facing in cutting their footprint, suggesting potential solutions to overcome them.
- As the amount of data we need to host, store and distribute grows, so too does the need to do each of those things in an efficient and sustainable way.
- The sector, however, is facing challenges in decarbonising as it already accounts for some 2% of global emissions ahead of its further predicted growth.
- A sustainable and more efficient future for data center owner/operators is certainly within reach if they use the right tools.
From the application of AI to the growth of m-commerce, the birth of the metaverse to the burgeoning Internet of Things, the way we live our lives and run our businesses today is driving a data explosion. As the amount of data we need to host, store and distribute grows, so too does the need to do each of those things in an efficient and sustainable way.
Cutting the footprint of data
To meet targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement, countries are desperately trying to gear up legislation to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 – a challenge for a sector which already accounts for some 2% of global emissions ahead of its further predicted growth.
From next year, any data center owner/operator with a turnover of over €150 million will need to find a way of reporting on their sustainability performance in line with the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).
This is estimated to impact around 55,000 businesses. In addition, as of 15 May 2024, companies with data centers over 500kW will have to report on the previous year’s data (starting 15 May 2023) under the European Energy Efficiency Directive, and this is likely to be similar, if not the same metrics, based on the ISO 30134 / EN 50600.
And then there is the energy price spike of the past year which has provided an additional reminder that both planet and profits suffer when scarce resources aren’t used wisely.
How data centers can improve their operational sustainability
Taken together, there’s a clear imperative for data center operators to reliably measure, deliver and report concrete improvements in operational sustainability in the next 12 months.
To rise to this challenge, I believe three critical shifts need to take place in the near term.
Understanding the metrics that matter
Until now, a main benchmark for data center efficiency has been Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) – the ratio of the total amount of power delivered to a facility compared to that provided to the computing equipment.
While the quest for lower PUE figures has undoubtedly contributed to greater data center efficiency in the last ten years, future efficiency gains and reporting requirements under CSRD will require more nuanced measurements covering nine areas of resource use and IT equipment.
Of these, two metrics – IT Equipment Energy Efficiency (ITEEsv) and IT Equipment Utilization (ITEUsv) – are both key to future gains in efficiency and sustainability.
In the future, it will be imperative that all operators are able to measure and improve these key metrics from the IT stack.
Allocating one clear owner for data center efficiency
Today, responsibility for a data center will typically fall between two teams with conflicting agendas: a facilities or estates team responsible for managing the energy budget; and an IT team tasked with maintaining a high-performing, high-availability IT estate.
To succeed in improving data center efficiency and reducing energy costs, both teams need to work together with a clear mandate and targets.
To achieve this, organisations need to review their internal organisation and restructure if necessary to incentivise teams to work together towards the same goals.
Readiness to evaluate and adopt tools
A third shift that needs to take place is the readiness to evaluate and adopt tools that can improve resource use, cut carbon emissions and deliver the assured reporting required for CSRD, EED and the respective sustainability standards.
Talking to consultants and partners tasked with advising the biggest businesses on how to manage this challenge, the scale of data gathering and time required to understand the changes needed is an almost insurmountable challenge as the deadlines for reporting against standards get closer.
New sustainability tech companies are working hard to solve the reporting challenges using AI and machine learning to provide answers and actions for each element of the data center operations.
A sustainable and more efficient future for data center owner/operators is certainly within reach. The demands of sustainability reporting will not be too challenging, provided organisations step back, understand the changes they need to make and collaborate with those who have the knowledge and tools to help them get there.
The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.