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How data center operators are shifting towards sustainability

How data center operators are shifting towards sustainability

Data CentresInsightsSingaporeTop Stories

Hitesh Prajapati, Country Manager of Vertiv Singapore, tells us how data center operators are shifting towards sustainability to reduce their environmental impact.

Hitesh Prajapati, Country Manager of Vertiv Singapore

How can data centers contribute to climate action?

Data centers have had an extraordinarily high reliance on power from traditional fossil fuel fired plants until recently. As a key step towards climate action, some data center providers and the hyperscale tenants are pivoting towards renewable energy to reduce the environmental impact.

For example, Amazon recently became the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy to support its offices and data centers. Some of the large corporations have committed to reducing the carbon footprint in all aspects of their operations as part of their goals to be net-zero in the next 8-10 years.

Along with energy source, data centers can reduce their carbon footprint through efficient usage of the energy by lowering the power usage effectiveness (called PUE) inside the facility.

How can providers address the increasing needs of both Digital Transformation and climate change?

Climate initiatives are starting to be at the forefront of many corporate priorities. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics, 73% of executives they surveyed said their organizations have set a net-zero carbon emissions goal.

In that same survey, however, while 86% of companies stated they have a sustainability strategy, only about 35% of those surveyed have taken action on that strategy. Challenges include resistance from customers, technology barriers and even regulatory barriers.

The key is to have a fundamental approach to sustainability that integrates within the core operations of the company. While companies can start in small steps, the key is to take action now to better prepare for the future.

As one of the major consumers of energy, data center providers can take a more proactive role in minimizing their carbon footprint such as shifting from traditional fossil fuel-based energy and select energy options with greener, renewable sources.

Some examples of these include retrofitting existing sites or utilizing energy optimization services to identify energy saving opportunities in an existing data center. For new sites, consulting with an expert service provider will be beneficial in executing a company’s sustainability strategy.

What are new sustainable and eco-friendly innovations in the industry?

The United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP26 last year introduced a variety of global initiatives to address climate change and climate risk, which also applies to the IT industry.

These include measuring carbon emissions and prioritizing actions that will have the biggest impact on reducing energy use. In Singapore, for example, we are seeing some data center operators adopting a multi-tiered sustainability strategy, such as shifting to renewables or clean energy and driving efficiencies in energy and water usage as well.

There are various innovations happening in each of these fields. For example, in case of energy optimization, immersion cooling technology can help companies scale their computing power easily and cost-effectively through a dramatic leap in data center cooling capabilities.

Servers and other components in the rack are submerged in a thermally conductive dielectric liquid, eliminating the need for air cooling or fans in the servers. This new approach is considered an energy efficient form of cooling, driving power usage efficiency (PUE) down.

From the point of view of circular economy, there are industry innovations under development on how to utilize the residual heat from data centers for other purposes. Data center operators are also keen to adopt recycling initiatives for new battery technologies.

How did the pandemic highlight the criticality of the data center industry to businesses across the world?

While the pandemic accelerated digitization in various enterprises, it propelled disruption and ‘new normal’ in several areas, i.e. education, e-commerce, workspace, events, health monitoring, entertainment and the like.

The digital hardware and software critical to seamless interaction and timely service deliveries in these sectors are housed in the secure and 24×7 available modern data centers. The data center industry, acclaimed as an essential service, provided the much-needed physical infrastructure to house the IT assets storing zettabytes of data and running billions of applications.

The pandemic saw the demand for cloud services soar which in turn are enabled through an interconnected network of millions of IT computing and storage assets in data centers around the world.

With the undeniably critical role played by data centers in the pandemic, data centers are poised to become as necessary as critical utility services in the next couple of years.

Is the consumption of power by data centers set to rise? If so, why is this?

Data centers, and hence their power consumption, will continue to grow in line with the inevitable growth of digitization and cloud adoption. However, the focus is on a strategic switch to a cleaner power source in the future while optimizing the energy usage in current and new facilities.

The growing efficiencies and changing mix towards renewable sources will balance the sheer increase in quantum of power usage.  For example in Singapore, data centers accounted for approximately 7% of energy consumption in 2020 according to the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI).

While power usage will go up with the lifting of the moratorium on new data centers, the new facilities will need to incorporate best-in-class efficiency and sustainability innovations.

Can you give any examples of data centers that are landmark projects in terms of sustainability?

Green Mountain in Norway is one of the world’s greenest colocation operators, servicing customers in financial services, health care and government industries. They are big on sustainability and as part of their DC1 facility expansion project, they opted to choose new cooling technologies from Vertiv.

The solutions deployed helped Green Mountain solidify their commitment to sustainability and enable customers to optimize operations more efficiently.

According to Alexander de Flon Ronning, Design and Product Manager of Green Mountain: “Sustainability affects everything we do and is critical whenever we build new colocation data centers. All our customers can see where we get our energy. It is a key differentiator for us. The technologies we deployed at Green Mountain are the most energy- efficient we have seen. Based on the power usage effectiveness (PUE), the equipment will improve overall efficiency rating, which was already at extremely high standards.”

Are there any certifications data centers need to achieve to prove their green credentials?

There are a number of country-specific certifications on building ‘green’ or sustainable data centers. Some countries also incentivize ‘green data centers’ through tax breaks.

In Singapore, for example, the government’s Infocomm Media Development Authority developed a Singapore Standard for Green Data Centers. Modeled after the ISO 50001 standard on energy management, it defines a set of performance metrics for data centers to measure their energy efficiency.

In Malaysia, the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) Malaysia aims to drive public and private collaborations to support carbon reduction targets of 40% against the GDP annually in the ICT sector.

In the industry, PUE is a measure of energy efficiency of a data center. It is derived by calculating the ratio of the energy used as a whole for the data center as compared with the energy used by just the IT equipment alone. As an example, the PUE for the to-be-approved data centers in Singapore is reportedly required to be 1.3 or below.

How can data centers help organizations reduce their carbon footprint?

Data centers and the entire ecosystem of companies associated with them can start by adopting a resolution to measure and reduce carbon in all their products, facilities and power.

The top cloud providers who are the major customers for hyperscale data center buildups have already announced their goals to be carbon neutral or carbon negative over the next 5-10 years.

The data center providers and their vendors/ solution providers are accordingly working to align their goals by incorporating sustainability approaches and strategies in design, building, supply chain, services and their processes.

These measures can focus on, among others, conserving energy, water and other natural resources that in turn can aid in the reduction of greenhouse emissions. To illustrate, Vertiv provides highly efficient power and thermal solutions to data center operators while it has also adopted certain energy efficiency initiatives in its own operations, such as LED lighting to equipment upgrades, and exploring the adoption of renewable energy.

What sort of services should a green data center be offering to prove its green credentials?

The green certifications of a data center built and operated on sustainable principles offers immediate and significant differentiation to its clients as compared to more traditional data centers, especially the hyperscale cloud services companies and other enterprise-grade customers, by enabling them to progress towards their ESG goals.

These ‘fit for future’ data centers can offer digital solutions monitoring the energy consumption, water usage, temperature and humidity trends and peak demand cycles.

Along with access to clean power source and high efficiency standards on power usage, they can offer sustainable practices such as smart temperature and lighting controls, rainwater reclamation, waste heat recycling and advanced cooling technologies. They can make strides on leading recycling and circular economy programs with local businesses.

The next step is for these data centers to adopt a standard mechanism for measuring and reporting carbon in power usage and embodied within the materials or products used in the data centers. This will allow them to collaborate easily within themselves as well as with the client companies who may have already embarked on an organization wide carbon management program to measure and decarbonize their operations.

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