Making Data Centres Sustainable - Praxis
Making Data Centres Sustainable

Making Data Centres Sustainable

Data centres are the backbone of the digital world, powering everything from streaming services to Cloud computing. But with great digital infrastructure comes a substantial environmental footprint. Data centres consume vast amounts of electricity, leading to significant carbon emissions. As the demand for data storage and processing grows, the need for sustainable practices in data centres has become increasingly urgent.

 

Despite all their utility, data centres are infamous for high energy consumption. According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), data centres accounted for about 1% of global electricity demand in 2019 – approximately 200 terawatt-hours (TWh), roughly equivalent to the annual consumption of some mid-sized countries. That consumption rose to roughly 460TWh in 2022, a figure that could rise to more than 1,000TWh by 2026 in a worst-case scenario.

There has, however, been notable progress in improving energy efficiency, with several major global players taking proactive steps. Google’s data centres use AI to cut cooling energy by 40% and aim for carbon-free energy by 2030. Microsoft too plans to be carbon negative by 2030, utilising renewable energy and innovative cooling endeavours like Project Natick, their underwater centres. Meta’s data centre in Oregon, using evaporative cooling and renewable energy, boasts a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.09, one of the lowest in the industry, indicating high energy efficiency.

Evolution of Sustainable Practices

Some of the noteworthy steps taken include:

  • Use of Energy-Efficient Hardware: The development of more efficient servers, storage devices, and networking equipment has been crucial. Innovations like solid-state drives (SSDs) and advanced processors that deliver higher performance per watt have contributed to reducing the energy footprint.
  • Improved Cooling Systems: Cooling is a major energy expense in data centres. Traditional cooling methods are being replaced by more efficient systems such as liquid cooling, which can reduce energy use by up to 40%. Additionally, techniques like free cooling, which utilises external air, and advanced HVAC systems have further minimised energy consumption.
  • Virtualisation and Consolidation: Virtualisation allows multiple virtual machines to run on a single physical server, improving server utilisation rates and reducing the total number of servers needed. This has led to significant energy savings, as fewer physical machines require less power and cooling.
  • Renewable Energy Adoption: Many data centres are now powered by renewable energy sources. Companies like Google and Microsoft have committed to running their data centres on 100% renewable energy. Google, for example, has gone carbon-neutral ever since 2007; its target is to operate on 100%carbon-free energy by 2030.
  • Energy Management Systems: Advanced energy management systems (EMS) help monitor and optimise energy use in real time. These systems can identify inefficiencies and adjust operations to minimise energy waste.

Key Trends Driven by Sustainability

The focus on sustainability is driving several key trends in data centre operations:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Energy Optimisation: AI and machine learning are increasingly used to optimise energy use in data centres. These technologies can predict and manage energy loads more efficiently, reducing unnecessary power consumption.
  • Edge Computing: By processing data closer to the source, edge computing reduces the need for long-distance data transmission, thereby lowering energy consumption.For applications likeautonomous vehicles and IoT devices – solutions that fully depends on real-time data processing – this can be a boon indeed!
  • Micro Data Centres: Smaller, localised data centres reduce the need for large, centralised facilities and can be more energy-efficient. These micro data centres often utilise renewable energy sources and advanced cooling techniques.
  • Sustainable Building Practices: Data centre construction is also becoming more sustainable. Companies are using green building materials and designs that enhance energy efficiency. LEED certification for data centres is becoming a standard, ensuring that facilities meet high environmental performance criteria.
  • Circular Economy Initiatives: The concept of a circular economy is gaining traction in the data centre industry. This involves reusing and recycling equipment, reducing waste, and extending the lifecycle of data centre components. For example, companies are refurbishing old servers and repurposing parts to minimise electronic waste.

The evolution of sustainability in data centres is a testament to the industry’s commitment to reducing its environmental impact. Through advancements in energy-efficient hardware, innovative cooling solutions, and the adoption of renewable energy, data centres are becoming more sustainable. While significant progress has been made, the continued growth of digital services necessitates ongoing innovation and investment in sustainable practices. By embracing new technologies and sustainable strategies, the data centre industry can meet the rising demand for digital services while minimising its environmental footprint.

 

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