Future of Data Centers Podcast Recap Episode 3: Embodied and Operational Carbon

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Are Net-Zero Data Centers the Next Generation of Data Centers?

The Future of Data Centers: A Mini-Podcast Series From the Viewpoint of Server Farmers and Data Growers is taking over the airwaves. With hundreds of downloads from all corners of the world, it’s safe to say that the inaugural sustainability-focused series is well on its way to leading the pack when it comes to providing insight into such a critical topic.

Recently, Discover Pods, a renowned podcast medium, featured a Q&A with Arun Shenoy, Serverfarm’s SVP of Sales and Marketing, as part of its Podcast Spotlight series. In reviewing the podcast series in its entirety, Discover Pods highlighted, “the term ‘greenwashing’ is bandied about nearly enough to form a drinking game throughout the podcast.” In addition, the spotlight article goes on to comment about how the episodes throughout the three-part sustainability series don’t punch holes in woo-woo corporate smokescreens used to soften the PR of how much carbon data centers (new and old) can off put. “It’s no leftist takedown of corporations performatively attempting to fix the problems they caused, but it’s certainly more level-headed than most business-minded podcasts.”

We couldn’t agree more with this perspective, which brings us to the theme of the third and final episode of this controversial series that navigates the difference between embodied and operational carbon and why it matters when it comes to mitigating climate change. As the many pledges and commitments to be net-zero carbon across data centers and organizations throughout the world intensify, this episode explores why the industry has historically struggled to accurately measure its carbon footprint while giving listeners a look into future sustainability initiatives and Serverfarm’s award-winning modernization approach.

If you missed the first episode of this three-part series that took us ringside for the battle between new construction vs. modernization, citing the reasons why building a new data center should be a last resort, click here. For the second episode that debated the autonomous lights-out data center concept, click here or keep reading for an exclusive recap of episode three.

What is the Difference Between Embodied and Operational Carbon?

The third episode of this podcast series answers this question and more as Serverfarm’s Arun Shenoy, SVP of Sales of Marketing, and Sam Brown, VP of Engineering/Construction, along with tech reporter Ambrose McNevin take a deep dive into these differences during this insightful episode.

Podcast host Joel Makower, Chairman and Executive Editor of GreenBiz, kicks off the discussion by asking Shenoy and Brown to define the difference between embodied and operational carbon and what impact they each have on data center sustainability.

“Embodied carbon is the footprint that you inherit and receive as a data center operator at the end of the construction phase — and that involves all of the carbon that has been generated as part of the construction activities. This includes the upstream carbon that’s embodied in things like concrete, steel, and glass and the transportation of all of those things to the site from their source. Embodied carbon is effectively what you inherit at the starting line of your operation life as a data center, and operational carbon is everything that you consume thereafter.”

Arun Shenoy

After listeners were able to get a better understanding of the difference between embodied and operational carbon, Makower steered the conversation to discuss how the data center industry has been working on improving its environmental impact, especially when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of a facility.

Why Has the Data Center Industry Failed at Reporting Power Utilization Effectiveness?

The Data Center industry worked hard to establish metrics for understanding and measuring sustainability efforts when it coined the term Power Utilization Effectiveness (PUE) with little success. During the podcast, Brown points out that the PUE is not a reliable measurement mechanism. In addition to looking at PUE, you have to ask the right questions. What’s your load? How are your temperatures? What embodied carbon footprint did you inherit? PUE simply does not tell the whole story.

“Energy Efficiency in the data center space is just really poorly understood and very easily corrupted."

Sam Brown

Shenoy added that the entire data center industry would be well served by comparing itself to other sectors also focused on improving efficiency. Data centers that are not maximizing their space are akin to a hotel with mostly empty rooms — an inefficient use of real estate that consumes a ton of power when it’s not necessary. He also highlights that the data center sector would benefit from adopting the airline industry’s approach towards efficiency: ensure the correct information is at your fingertips when you need it and hire the right people with the right disciplines to do specific jobs. Beyond developing a sustainable data center strategy, it’s critical to ensure that operational teams have the commitment and knowledge towards efficiency and sustainability best practices.

Will the Future Bring us Closer to Carbon Negative?

Over the last few decades, the data center industry has been improving its environmental impact, especially when it comes to increasing energy efficiency throughout a building. But has embodied carbon become a driving factor in the way the industry is adapting its strategy? Can the industry work towards becoming carbon negative?

The conversation addresses these questions and takes a journey into exploring how carbon is measured and tracked and how that information is delivered to the end-user looking to meet their own corporation’s sustainability needs.

“Businesses will soon demand to understand their data center’s operational and embodied sustainability efforts to properly portray it to their customers.”

Ambrose McNevin

Hyperscalers, such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple, have invested millions towards significant carbon reductions, lest their global reputations are destroyed. Soon, every business will be held accountable for providing that same information to their customers and stakeholders.

Shenoy conveys that Serverfam’s modernization model proves to their customers that the delta is the embodied carbon associated with a net new facility, and that’s what they are avoiding when choosing a retrofitted data center. By avoiding the embodied carbon for each megawatt of IT capacity, customers effectively have a four-year head start in terms of integrating operational carbon savings into the efficiency of leveraging a Serverfarm facility. He goes on to encourage the industry, IT leaders and C-suites to get a jump start on becoming carbon negative.

“Let’s go into the future and start early on a path not only to aim to be net-zero — let’s get a start on becoming carbon negative. The carbon footprint of an existing facility has already happened; we’ve already paid for it. Let’s do everything we can as an industry not to add to it.”

Arun Shenoy

There’s far more to the third episode of this mission-critical podcast, including a look into the evolution of the data center industry and a few of Brown and Shenoy’s favorite industry terms and metaphors. To listen to the podcast in its entirety, click here. To receive podcast updates and the first to receive our second DMaaS-focused series launching on International Podcast Day, subscribe below.

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