Marc Cram, Director of Sales for Server Technology, discusses how data center sustainability is being addressed by the biggest names in the industry.
It’s been said that “sustainability is most often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. It has three main pillars: economic, environmental, and social. Informally these three pillars are referred to as people, planet, and profits.” In the data center industry, leaders such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Equinix have all taken a visibly strong stance on sustainability, contributing positively to their reputation and public goodwill. A 2016 Voices of The Industry column by Adil Attlassy also addresses this topic.
How are Data Centers Addressing Sustainability?
To begin with, the companies have each appointed personnel dedicated to driving corporate sustainability and to reporting publicly on the sustainability efforts of the company. Second, they have taken to heart the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” (The Three R’s). This mantra first came to prominence during the 1970’s, sometime near the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by the U.S. Congress. The data center industry adopted The Three R’s as guiding principles for meeting the economic, environmental, and social aspects of sustainability.
Several steps have been taken by data centers to reduce their energy consumption and their carbon footprint. This includes deduplication of data, decommissioning of idle equipment, consolidation of workloads onto fewer servers, adopting hardware that performs more work per Watt of energy, eliminating unnecessary cooling, using AI to optimize settings throughout the data center, and achieving reliability through robust software versus redundant hardware infrastructure. In addition, they choose Energy Star rated products where possible and design for LEED certification.
IT systems designed for disaggregation (such as Open Compute and Open19) facilitate the reuse of components and repair of systems. There is no need to replace a metal chassis when all that is needed is a new CPU card. Use of standard racks and flexible power distribution units (those offering combination C13 + C19 outlets) help prolong the useful life of the IT infrastructure. Buildings are constructed from recycled materials. Waste heat from the data center is shared with city dwellers in some cases.
Data centers have adopted not only the PUE metric for measuring power efficiency, but the WUE metric for measuring water use efficiency. They have taken to cooling systems that use and recycle waste water. When older systems can no longer be repurposed, many data centers shred old hardware to facilitate recovery of precious metals from the electronics of obsolete servers, drives, and so forth.
Beyond the Three R’s
Beyond the Three R’s, all of the leading data centers have committed to transitioning away from carbon-based and nuclear generated power in favor of renewable energy from wind, solar, and hydroelectric facilities. Access to this power is one factor driving the decision-making over where to locate the data centers being built today that will be around to meet the needs of our future generations of citizens.
Marc Cram is Director of Sales for Server Technology.