Should the Development of Future Data Centers be Defined by their Ecological Sustainability?
Serverfarm’s recently released White Paper Data Center + IT Collaboration to Cut Carbon is required reading with its case for CIOs, CTOs and data center leaders stepping up to address head-on the ESG, decarbonization and sustainability challenges the sector faces in delivering true net zero data centers and IT.
Essentially, the report advocates an end to the siloed thinking Serverfarm sees as preventing real sustainability actions in IT and data centers and a shift, instead, to collaboration over decarbonizing digital infrastructure across the full IT and data center stack. The paper pitches sustainability gains at every layer of the stack as CIOs and CTOs gain an understanding of the energy and carbon emissions profile of their digital infrastructure and operations.
A combined top down and bottom up approach to measuring the sustainability impact of each layer of the stack, the paper says, start to deliver tangible results if, at each layer of the stack, consideration can be given to understanding power performance and the carbon footprint of the underlying infrastructure.
Gathering and understanding such data will, the paper says, inform strategy and save on resources in energy use, space and time.
Data centers are where the physical infrastructure of the Internet intersect with digital services driving economic efficiencies and acting as sustainability enablers.
Digitalization is a major driver of decarbonization. According to a 2022 Accenture survey: “Delivering on the sustainability agenda will be impossible without technology. Every respondent in the survey of 560 companies with over US$1 billion in revenue said technology was either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ for achieving their sustainability targets.”
Within this, the paper says, roles of CIOs and senior data center managers in meeting corporate sustainability targets are undisputed.
But they cannot act by separately looking at half the picture. Greater collaboration based on shared data is vital. Where there is so much to evaluate, surely it is time to define the development of future data centers by the scope for ecological sustainability.
Today, all data center developments are viewed including those that are not currently data centers as through the lens of sustainability. But whether future data center developments should be defined by ecological considerations is a more complex question than it might first appear.
From the bottom up a net zero data center spans design and build, renewable energy resources, heat capture and reuse.
From the top-down sustainable IT within spans everything from software development to processor performance per watt to server refresh cycles.
Add utilization rates and whole of life asset management from sourcing to disposal and clearly 100% measurement of sustainability remains an inexact science.
The sustainability of a building development for large enterprises, commercial data center providers and cloud companies through GHG emissions reduction should start with an evaluation of the design and construction.
Before the developers, financiers, architects, designers, engineers, construction leads and contractors begin any project each stakeholder is being asked to consider the environmental
impact of their decisions and actions. The accurate measurement of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions of everything from steel and concrete to machinery to the building process itself is challenging.
It must also be considered that a new data center is not always a greenfield project. Smart developers avoid additional embodied carbon costs by making use of modernization and upgrades to existing buildings, the latest power and cooling infrastructure provides best ratings for GHG carbon emissions.
And once a building is completed and kitted out with mechanical and electrical equipment (M+E) the sustainability of its operation over a 20-year asset life will become the focus.
By now CIOs will have heard of the PUE, CUE and WUE metrics. Respectively Power, Carbon and Water Usage Effectiveness metrics.
The most established sustainability metric for data center power is PUE – Power Usage Effectiveness – which is a measure of the power entering the building divided by the electricity reaching the IT equipment to do ‘useful work.’
In PUE terms the perfect number is one. However, this is not a measure of sustainability.
The short answer to the opening question is ‘yes’ data centers should be defined by sustainability.
It will require deeper collaboration between all stakeholders. Defining sustainability requires IT and M+E professionals working in harmony using common data, goals and incentives across the stack.
Data Center + IT Collaboration to Cut Carbon
Addressing the ESG, decarbonization and sustainability challenges to providing net zero data centers and IT. A paper for CTOs, CIOs and Data Center professionals.