Global Environmental Sustainability with Data Centers

Last week we talked about key trends for software development expected for 2019, and today we’ll discuss another trend for the coming year that’s a bit more of a given. That being that datacenters will have even more demands placed on their capacities as we continue to become more of a digital working world all the time.

Indeed, datacenters have grown to be key partners for enterprises, rather than being just an external service utilized for storing data and business operation models. Even the smallest of issues in datacenter operations can impact business.

While datacenters are certainly lifeblood for every business, they also have global impacts and in particular as it relates to energy consumption. Somewhere in the vicinity of 3% of total electricity consumption worldwide is made by datacenters, and to put that in perspective that’s more than the entire power consumption of the UK.

Datacenters also account for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 2% electronic waste (aka e-waste). Many people aren’t aware of the extent to which our growingly digital world impacts the natural one so directly, but it really does.

Like any good Canadian web hosting provider who provides the service for thousands of customers, we have extensive datacenter requirements ourselves. Most will make efforts to ensure their datacenters operate as energy-efficiently as possible, and that goes along with the primary aim – making sure those data centers are rock-solid reliable AND as secure as possible.

Let’s take a look today at what’s being done around the globe to promote environmental sustainability with data centers.

Lack of Environmental Policies

Super Micro Computer recently put out a report entitled ‘Data Centers and the Environment’ and it stated that 43% of organizations don’t have an environmental policy, and another 50% have no plans to develop any such policy anytime soon. Reasons why? high costs (29%), lack of resources or understanding (27%), and then another 14% don’t make environmental issues a priority.

The aim of the report was to help datacenter managers better understand the environmental impact of datacenters, provide quantitative comparisons of other companies, and then in time help them reduce this impact.

Key Findings

28% of businesses take environmental issues into consideration when choosing datacenter technology

Priorities that came before it for most companies surveyed were security, performance, and connectivity. However, 9% of companies considered ‘green’ technology to be the foremost priority. When it comes to actual datacenter design, however, the number of companies who put a priority on energy efficiency jumps up by 50% to 59%.

The Average PUE for a Datacenter is 1.89

Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) means the ratio of energy consumed by datacenter in comparison to the energy provided to IT equipment. The report found the average datacenter PUE is approx. 1.6 but many (over 2/3) of enterprise datacenters come in with a PUE over 2.03.

Further, it seems some 58% of companies are unaware of their datacenter PUE. Only a meagre 6% come in that average range between 1.0 and 1.19.

24.6 Degrees C is the Average Datacenter Temperature

It’s common for companies to run datacenters at higher temperatures to reduce strain on HVAC systems and increase savings on energy consumption and related costs. The report found 43% of the datacenters have temperatures ranging between 21 degrees C and 24 degrees C.

The primary reasons indicated for running datacenters at higher temperatures are for reliability and performance. Hopefully these operators will come to soon learn that recent advancements in server technology have optimized thermal designs and newer datacenter designs make use of free-air cooling. With them, they can run datacenters at ambient temperatures up to 40 degrees C and see no decrease in reliability and performance. It also helps improve PUE and saving costs.

Another trend in data center technology is immersion cooling, where datacenters are cooled by being entirely immersed. We can expect to see more of this type of datacenter technology rolled out this year too.

3/4 of Datacenters Have System Refreshes Within 5 Years

Datacenters and their energy consumption can be optimized with regular updates of the systems and adding modern technologies that consume low power. The report found that approximately 45% of data center operators conduct a refreshing of their system sometime within every 3 years. 28% of them do it every four to five years. It also seems that the larger the company, the more likely they are to do these refreshes.

8% Increase in Datacenter E-Waste Expected Each Year

It’s inevitable that electronic waste (e-waste) is created when datacenters dispose of server, storage, and networking equipment. It’s a bit of a staggering statistic when you learn that around 20 to 50 million electric tons of e-waste is disposed every year around the world, and the main reason it’s so problematic is that e-waste deposits heavy metals and other hazardous waste into landfills. If left unchecked and we continue to produce it as we have then e-waste disposal will increase by 8% each year.

Some companies partner with recycling companies to dispose of e-waste, and some repurpose their hardware in any one of a number of different ways. The report found that some 12% of companies don’t have a recycling or repurposing program in place, and typically they don’t because it’s costly, partners / providers are difficult to find in their area, and lack of proper planning.

On a more positive note, many companies are adopting policies to address the environmental issues that stem from their datacenter operation. Around 58% of companies already have environmental policy in place or are developing it.

We can all agree that datacenters are an invaluable resource and absolutely essential for the digital connectivity of our modern world. However, they are ‘power pigs’ as the expression goes, and it’s unavoidable that they are given the sheer volume of activity that goes on within them every day. We’ve seen how they’ve become marginally more energy efficient, and in this year to come we will hopefully see more energy efficiency technology applied to them.

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