Sustainable Data Centers: Shaping the Future of Healthcare, Social Media & Education

data center sustainability

Without data centers, the fundamental fabric of everyday life would fall apart. Despite the critical nature of this infrastructure, little is known about what they are, what they do, where they are and what their impact is.

It is no longer too extreme to say that data centers are fundamental to society. We are apparently now able to sustain hundreds or even thousands of “friendships” on social media (can you imagine how fast teenage conversation would stop if Snapchat went down!). We can now deliver micro economies and education in remote locations in India and Africa as mobile networks expand and develop. Healthcare and transportation would grind to a halt if digital infrastructure failed.

So with these critical facilities being the guardians and suppliers of the data we need to do just about anything on a daily basis, why are data centers lagging behind online shopping, election predictions, gambling and animal migration when it comes to using analytics to ensure security, safety, cost-effectiveness and optimal performance?

Powering our Daily Activities

To answer that question, a little more detail is required on what data centers actually do.

Cisco estimates that by 2020, a million minutes of video content will cross global IP networks every second. Data centers need to prepare for the effect this activity will have on service availability, but also the increased usage in natural resources.

Powering IT equipment is just a small part of running an efficient data center as heat generation is a major consequence of running so much machinery, in such dense environments, 24 x 7 x 365.

Cooling is not only a major investment in equipment but the power draw can be huge and incredibly inefficient if not understood, planned and managed correctly. Cooling is also the key element, next to network performance, in the strategic selection of new data center sites.

Historically, data centers sprung up in major cities within older, disused buildings. Bespoke facilities followed but there was still a preconception that they had to be on the doorstep of the customer due to network performance and transaction speed.

Now, with renewable energy in the form of hydro, wind and solar – that provide a sustainable and clean source of power – being in extremely remote locations, data centers now benefit from high bandwidth and can locate themselves virtually anywhere.

Data center electricity demand is on the rise and could reach 13% of global consumption by 2030. Again, with analytics being used to predict weather, energy cost and usage, carbon emissions and other long-term elements, executives are at a dramatic advantage when they make decisions based on this data.

Corporate Recognition of CSR

CSR is not a new campaign but it is now receiving the corporate recognition it deserves to make the economic, social and environmental improvements it promises. Transparency and tangible changes are essential as investors, consumers and the media measure the non-core business impact companies are making on economic and social development.

Data center resource consumption may have remained under the radar for years, but CSR has shone a spotlight on corporate activities recently. Greenpeace’s annual data center report and Click Clean campaign is urging large technology organizations to improve their carbon footprints and power facilities with renewable sources.

The campaign also calls for greater transparency around energy usage. Organizations should be able to provide detailed information of their data center estate and its ongoing impact on the environment.

For years, industries such as consumer packaged goods, oil and gas and transportation were targeted for their lack of understanding and action regarding “green” issues. This led to major global regulations and sustainability targets being set.

Biofuels, plant-based plastics, sustainable forestry and incentives such as carbon credits have driven rapid changes in many industries. But data centers have remained predominantly hidden from not only regulators and non-government organizations (NGOs) but even the management of the enterprises themselves.

For example, many executives are unaware of the volume of water consumed by facilities. US data centers consumed over 600 billion liters of water in 2014 to cool equipment and to generate the energy necessary to power their IT estates.

Water used to cool equipment is often treated with chemicals and cannot be reused for human consumption. Also, data centers are often built in some of the world’s most arid climates, many of which are suffering from drought.

Many data center providers are moving towards renewable and clean energy sources to power facilities but there is still a long way to go.

Confident Executives Use Analytics

The challenges, therefore, are clear. From the smallest companies to the world’s leaders, technology provides both a competitive advantage and a fundamental challenge. These primarily fall into three categories – financial, operational and environmental.

Owning and operating your own data center estate is an immense expense and responsibility but there is a growing shift towards an holistic approach for managing the IT backbone of the organization.

Colocation services provide space and power when you still need your own IT equipment; cloud providers go one step further meaning all you need is the application, while a combination of cloud and software vendors mean you are simply renting the applications on which you do your work. The majority of large organizations will end up with a hybrid of all of these options while small companies can use these options to affordably grow and expand their business.

How do you decide upon such a dramatic change in operating procedure? Analytics.

Predictability has always been a game of chance based on trends. Today’s data center analytics solutions are engineered around artificial intelligence-based algorithms that analyse equipment, climate, energy, cost and IT performance and provide accurate information to make decisions that will ultimately underpin the success or failure of operations.

The data center industry is finally cleaning up its act but there is still room for improvement. With innovative new technologies and techniques helping to improve facilities, organizations can finally make accurate decisions about their current and future data center plans.

Armed with these tools, organizations can get to work on improving efficiency and demonstrate to shareholders and social activists that they are committed to tangibly reducing their environmental impact.

Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins is SVP of Strategic Partnerships at Romonet, an award winning data center lifecycle analytics provider. Richard is an internationally-focused sales and marketing professional in enterprise software, data center analytics, IoT, cleantech and multimedia.