As the reliance on the internet has increased exponentially, so too has the demand for data. From the way we communicate to the way we bank, hire staff, read news, socialize and even navigate a map; the internet is something the modern world relies on to power our personal and professional lives.
To cater for the growing traffic, an extensive global network of data centers has emerged. But at what cost to the environment and to the industry?
Data centers already consume roughly 3% of all globally generated power, and account for approximately 2% of greenhouse gas emissions – a carbon footprint equivalent to the airline industry. In fact, the 416 TWh consumed by the world’s data centers in 2015 was greater than the entire power consumption of the UK (at 300 TWh).
The numbers are staggering but does ‘going green’ really matter to the modern data center?
Data center energy consumption first came under heavy scrutiny in the early 2000s, when experts warned that the rapid growth of the Internet would drive a rise in worldwide fossil fuel emissions. Thankfully, energy efficiency improvements and innovation in renewable energy has substantially lowered the increase of the industry’s power consumption – despite the fact that the hunger for data has accelerated.
Furthermore, improved hardware efficiency, server virtualization and the advent of hyper-scale data centers, has driven economies of scale for the likes of Microsoft and Amazon. These IT behemoths have mastered the art of maximizing data center efficiency and server utilization, as well as improving their power systems and cooling equipment.
And the big names in tech don’t shy away from making bold claims of their own either. Google – already the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable energy – recently stated it was on track to meet its 100% renewable power usage target by 2017. A significant leap considering the company reached the 37% mark just two years ago.
Meanwhile every one of Apple’s data centers are 100% powered by clean energy and Microsoft’s data centers are all 100% carbon neutral with plans to reach a 50% renewable energy goal by 2018. Amazon is also committed to 100% renewable energy use across its Amazon Web Services data centers and expects to reach the 50% mark in 2017.
In pursuit of a healthier bottom line, some data center operators are seeking out colder climates (such as Northern Europe) thereby reducing the reliance on power to cool their equipment. Importantly, the cooler locations generally have lower electricity prices which makes a wintery move all the more attractive. Canada was identified recently as the next potential data center hotspot given its cold climate and ‘abundance of inexpensive, reliable and green electricity’. The country also has the added advantage of close proximity to the US and high levels of privacy protection.
Location aside, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), the industry standard metric for assessing data center energy efficiency, is fueling competition amongst the major operators who are all striving to achieve the lowest PUE to satisfy the expectations of their customers, shareholders and the community.
Telehouse Europe grabbed headlines recently when it unveiled ‘one of the world’s greenest’ data centers . The North Two building in London’s docklands is said to be achieving a PUE of 1.16 thanks to an innovative evaporative cooling system installed across six floors of the building.
On the other side of the globe, the NEXTDC data center in Port Melbourne has been fitted with one of Australia’s largest solar arrays, enabling customers to choose 100% renewable power for their IT infrastructure. The 400-kilowatt system is offsetting 670 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.
And Equinix, arguably the world’s leader in data centers, claims it is avoiding 122,000 metric tons in CO2 emissions – equivalent to taking 26,000 cars off the road – every year thanks to its investment in energy efficiencies.
With the spotlight firmly on an industry that is growing considerably fast and consuming more power than whole countries, data center operators and tech giants alike recognize that energy usage is of both commercial and public importance. The value of ‘going green’ not only matters to the modern data center, it’s a top priority and key business strategy for operators seeking a competitive advantage and significant savings to their bottom line. Replacing traditional methods to power data centers with more sustainable practices is not only environmentally responsible, it’s intelligent business.
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