As the amount of data inflates exponentially, more and more data centres are being established to serve this Digital Transformation. Patrick Smith, EMEA Field CTO, Pure Storage, discusses ways of reducing the environmental impact caused and how to manage the pressure to deliver sustainable IT operations.
Green initiatives are nothing new in the Middle East, where carbon emissions are a constant concern for governments undergoing economic-growth. In 2017, Abu Dhabi Ports introduced a sustainable paper-usage initiative as part of a wider eco-friendly strategy. In the same year, the UAE’s Ministry of Justice launched a sustainability project as part of Vision 2021. Saudi Arabia is also setting its sights on green issues as part of its own national economic programmes, with paperless courts being front and centre of its justice ministry’s eco efforts.
All Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) economies and many throughout the Middle East have seen the potential of technology and Industry 4.0 to propel their economies to greater heights. Innovation and competitiveness are buzzwords now across the region — shorthand for a renewed sense of destiny. Each nation sees itself as a potential world leader, whether economically, technologically or environmentally.
In the GCC region, which produces a fifth of the world’s oil, leaders are faced with green-minded consumers around the world leaning away from petrochemical reliance, while new technologies continue to intensify competition. As a result, much of the economic activity in the region over the past decade has been inspired by governments’ efforts to diversify their economies.
Energy consumption in a data centre world
This eco-friendly mindset now pervades all policy, down to the private sector that relies on cloud computing to reduce the cost of ownership of its technology suite. As more and more data centres are established to serve the Digital Transformation ambitions of countless industries, energy consumption balloons. These facilities require a great deal of electricity, not only for running equipment, but also for powering the necessary cooling systems that support 24/7 operations. Organisations that administrate physical machines are also now required to ponder more carefully what happens to them when they are no longer in service.
Some estimates predict that ICT will account for as much as 21% of global electricity consumption by 2030 if current trends persist. Enterprises of all scales and industry can do something to curb this escalation. One does not have to have a formal carbon-neutral plan in place to select IT solutions aligned with sustainability. When procurement cycles kick in, keep in mind that, for example, adopting a more efficient storage system would lessen environmental impact.
We regularly see reports of individual companies that equal the energy consumption of tens of thousands of average households. If these companies replaced just one third of their IT infrastructure with more energy-efficient elements, they could see reductions in energy costs of up to 15% of their typical data centre bill.
The need for greener solutions
Middle East businesses continue to cry out for more local data centres that allow them to move to the cloud without flouting data-residency regulations. This demand can be seen in the plans of provider giants such as Microsoft, which has already built two data centres in the UAE and is planning a third in Qatar. Google and Oracle have also intimated their plans for Middle East cloud locations.
Innovation with regard to enterprises’ technology mixes will be vital if regional governments are to realise their ambitions of sustainable smart societies. The good news is that there is no trade-off between technological advancement and sustainability. Solutions that reduce carbon-footprint and run more efficiently offer the same, or even better, functionality as those that do not. Greener solutions can also allow the continual scaling up of infrastructure and allow enterprises enjoying stratospheric growth to tailor their storage facilities to expected data volume as they need it.
Storage vendors have made considerable strides in efficiency in recent years. The arrival of affordable flash technology has shrunk the physical space required to accommodate each terabyte of storage. Now flash has undergone its own evolution, giving way to Quad Level Cell (QLC) technology that further increases data-density capabilities — allowing, in some cases, 150 times the data volume with no increase in physical-space requirements or carbon footprint, compared to traditional storage like spinning disk. Such architectures can lead to massive reductions in power consumption.
New procurement methodologies
Sustainable IT emanates from the integration of such technologies into existing stacks, thereby shielding customers from arduous swap-out projects. IT leaders will not only welcome the sustainability attributes of these solutions. They normally endure the headache of five-year cycles for procurement, where amortised solutions are replaced with new ones that fit updated five-year business plans. These old procurement approaches do not fit regional sustainability ambitions and they are also not aligned with current market conditions in many industries. Digital business models mean that competing organisations are continually updating their business approaches as their analytics engines tell them what customers want in real-time. Five-year strategies are often outdated before they even begin.
When formulating a green IT strategy, enterprises need to consider three environmental impacts when procuring solutions: the impact of the disposal of IT equipment; the impact of energy consumption in operations; and the fiscal sustainability of the investment. The processor of an electronic device may have a lifetime of only three years, but many other parts, such as chassis, power supplies or cables can live on.
Any carbon-neutral strategy should take this into account. Sustainable IT is all about replacing only that which is out of date. Upgrades to hardware that are granular and continual, lead to a healthier environment, both ecologically and functionally. This is, of course, a radical paradigm shift for IT teams, but has the added advantage of being just what the business-development director ordered, in terms of agility and storage requirements.
Mounting pressure — but good news
Environmental responsibility is exactly what the general public has been demanding of companies and governments for several years now. Society has evolved over time and today it is made up of an ever-expanding number of millennials and Generation Z-ers. For the most part, these digital natives are more environmentally-focused than their predecessors and naturally as time moves on, they are becoming the customers of IT vendors. They demand green IT solutions all the more fiercely. Now, at last, we are delivering the technologies and strategies necessary to cater to those demands.
The pressure on IT teams to deliver sustainable IT will only ramp up in the future. The good news for them is that green solutions are reducing in cost every day; no longer requiring organisations to make tough choices or compromises. All that is left is for businesses to take the leap and go green.