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Hybrid IT gives way to hybrid power

Hybrid IT gives way to hybrid power

AustralasiaData CentresThought LeadershipTop Stories

Robert Linsdell, Managing Director Australia and New Zealand, Vertiv, and Cal Lahteenmaa,  Technical Director, Asia Pacific, Vertiv, highlight the importance of data centre sustainability as organisations continue to invest in hybrid IT and workforces become increasingly virtualised.

Given the changes brought on by the impact of the pandemic, hybrid IT has become the talk of the street. Business agility and flexibility are the new craze, but more importantly a vital trend to get ourselves back to reality.

Regardless of how grounded a business was pre-pandemic, hybrid cloud is offering a safe place to land in the throes of Business Continuity. According to IDC, more than 90% of organizations worldwide will rely on a combination of data centers, private clouds or public clouds to run their businesses.

Energy the essence of our new reality

So, with more reliance on cloud technologies and Edge Computing, it’s safe to say this year has highlighted the sheer importance of data center capacity. You see, everything you do in ‘the cloud’ relies on a vast, energy-intensive, on-the-ground data center.

According to the International Energy Agency, data center power consumption has flatlined in the three years prior to the pandemic. In this time, we estimate data centers were using up to 5% of our total energy use.

This means the data center industry has remained a significant consumer of energy, and with the pandemic upping the volume of traveling data, we estimate total energy consumption will climb much higher as organizations continue to invest in hybrid IT and workforces and experiences become increasingly virtualized.

As a result, data center sustainability is high on the agenda. But data centers aren’t – or at least don’t need to be – a threat to the movement of sustainability. The technical real estate may present an opportunity to accelerate this transition and help businesses lower their carbon footprint.

According to Vertiv’s 2019 data center survey, professionals predict that by 2025, 13% of data centers will be powered by solar energy and 8% by wind. In fact, some companies have already begun to explore renewable energy alternatives that can match up to these energy-consuming giants.

Google, for example, has been at the forefront of renewable energy initiatives. Its hyper-scale data center uses wind and solar energy by engaging in Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), fuelling more than 35% of its operations. This approach encourages the utility providers to manage and develop their own reliable renewable sources.

So what lessons can Australia’s positively bustling data center industry take from these developments? The reality is renewable options will struggle to address 100% of an enterprise’s data center needs. In the industry, renewables are often coined as ‘unreliables’, because of their intermittent nature – when these resources aren’t generating, electricity must be sourced from other means to avoid downtime.

According to 33% of surveyed data center operators and IT professionals, one of the top three causes of data center downtime is power outages. This makes it extremely tough to solely rely on renewables, such as solar, hydro or wind.

And so, just as the cloud technology is moving to a hybrid model, the power behind it should too.

Hybrid power can feed renewable energy into the grid, supplementing the plant’s carbon footprint and taking pressure off data centers’ increasing foothold on the grid. This method considers the critical nature of data centers working alongside the efficiencies of renewable energy.

Reductions in energy use and cost will vary depending on how much renewable energy is used. Typically speaking, whether it’s an enterprise, hyperscale or colocation data center, hybrid power can supplement efficiencies of up to 200 kilowatts per hour.

But these savings don’t come without their challenges. According to local data center procurement platform Cloudscene, there are 255 data center facilities and 687 service providers in Australia at the time of writing. These facilities have typically been designed with efficiency in mind, but the level to which depends on a number of factors including when they were built. Few were designed to accommodate a hybrid power setup.

The challenges of ageing data centers are pushing the rise in colocation development. But the key is to build energy efficiency into infrastructure design. According to the Energy Council Australia, intelligent data centers can reduce energy consumption by about 80%.

This kind of innovation will also lower operating costs for data center providers, increasing value for the entire ecosystem. The economies of scale in a large data center mean that even though they are massive consumers, they’re still about as efficient as it gets in the world of IT infrastructure, the bedrock to all things technology. Hybrid power would simply build on that further.

But hybrid powered doesn’t need to be limited to large-scale metro data centers – increasingly, businesses are relying on smaller data centers located closer to their operations. These remote data centers can also be fitted with renewables and create further value through lower operational costs.

Even without taking into account the impacts of a global health crisis on digital consumption, IT professionals and data center operators have had to adapt to the growth in digital reliance and how that effects energy efficiency every year. Hybrid power offers a valuable solution. Now more than ever, we need to refocus our energies into giving renewables a leg-up in the data center industry.

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