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The circle of life: DCA works to support greener data centres

The circle of life: DCA works to support greener data centres

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Several DCA Partners are now working within the concept of the ‘circular economy’, says Steve Hone, CEO, DCA. Here he tells us more about the principles of a circular economy, with insight from two DCA members about how they are championing these values.

The definition of the circular economy made me realise that it’s a very simple concept – a little bit like the ‘circle of life’ in the Lion king.  Every manufactured product upon its demise returns to its creator to be re-purposed and so contributes to the next version of the product.

A circular economy follows the principles of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

  • Resource use is minimised – Reduced
  • Reuse of products and parts is maximised – Reuse
  • Raw materials are reused – Recycled

I’ll also be sharing the opinions of two DCA Partners – Mat Jordan, Head of EMEA at Procurri and Astrid Wynne, Sustainability Manager, Techbuyer – who are not only championing these values themselves but also encouraging the supply chain they work with to do the same.

The Data Centre Alliance is strongly in favour of supporting all initiatives that encourage and ensure a more sustainable future.

Although data centres can never be truly considered as ‘green’ it remains the collective responsibility of all businesses and consumers to ensure that, as a sector, our data centres deliver the greenest credentials possible.

How to achieve a greener data centre: DC refurbishment, technology re-use and energy efficiency

Mat Jordan, Head of EMEA at Procurri, points out that the industry will experience huge growth in the next decade and explain more about trade-back and buy-back programmes, comprehensive independent maintenance servicing and IT asset disposition.

A mention of data centres tends not to invoke mental images of environmentally friendly technology and ‘green’ credentials; but often rather rows of grey equipment, dusty shelves and ‘always on’ computers.

This need not be the case any longer – as with everything in IT, now is the time for businesses to look to new ways of doing things to improve their sustainability and corporate social responsibility. The options for achieving ‘greener’ data centres are numerous, and varied: but they’re still not the status quo, so not all IT companies will offer them up easily.

There are many ways in which data centre owners can better utilise their existing equipment and optimise usage to enhance their sustainability credentials and the value gained from their centres, as well as different levels of such initiatives dependent on requirement, facility, budget and appetite. There truly is something for everyone.

Trade-back and buy-back programmes – cutting back on waste

When the usable life of data centre equipment comes to an end, businesses are often faced with the conundrum of having to raise finances quickly to replace what is being disposed of – should this be new, new-to-the-business or like-for-like replacements.

Utilising a logistics framework that allows businesses to buy, sell or trade assets can free up finances, buy in extra stock and source additional equipment as required. This optimises the on-site data centre stock to the best of its ability to ensure a streamlined business-as-usual service continues seamlessly without any excesses or waste.

Procurri does this by adopting a vendor-agnostic approach, with a single touchpoint for sourcing equipment stocking the best-of-breed from 13 OEMs across three warehouses of extensive stock in various regions.

Comprehensive independent maintenance servicing – extending product lifecycles

Businesses who find themselves with an IT issue can all too often swiftly decide to dispose of and replace hardware in order to fix the problem. Whilst this may rectify any issues quickly, this approach can be wasteful and unnecessary. Proper maintenance support can optimise and extend the lifecycle of equipment to do away with the need to procure more, maximising the value from it. A thorough and expert servicing contract should therefore be sought for those looking to improve their eco-friendly credentials.

Procurri’s approach to maintenance support covers not just new hardware, but also out-of-warranty and end-of-lifecycle products, delivering support services across 90 countries with a single point of contact to give an ‘always on’ 24×7 service.

IT asset disposition – sustainable disposal and minimising e-waste

Of course, as with all hardware, at some point, everything comes to the end of its life and needs removing from a data centre. It is at this point in time that many businesses find themselves unwittingly buying into unsustainable practices by simply appointing an ITAD firm and having equipment removed – and giving up their accountability at that point.

In order to ensure they are acting as responsibly as possible to minimise their e-waste, businesses should take an end-to-end approach with ITAD. Working with a provider from equipment assessment and verification right through to refurbishment, reconfiguration, resale or disposal gives full transparency across the entire process of asset disposition; allowing for intervention if required and the exploration of various options to improve sustainability and value derived.

Procurri offer a full end-to-end service for data centres with a priority on refurbishment and reconfiguration where it can be undertaken, all underpinned with ISO accreditation to ensure full adherence to local legislation and best practice guidelines.

Indeed, there are opportunities throughout datacentre set-up, management and eventual dismantling for owners to improve upon on their eco-friendly and energy-efficiency initiatives; and it’s often just a case of thinking creatively to identify such circumstances. The DCA will continue to promote, nurture and support member’s interest in these areas, and Procurri will continue to improve upon their offerings to stay at the forefront of such sustainability developments.

One thing’s for sure; and we’ve said it before; sustainability considerations are no longer just ‘nice-to-have’ policies in business, but now a necessity and something everyone should be challenging themselves on to do better at it. Continuous improvement is good for everyone and everything – and long may the cycle continue.

Untying the circular knot

Astrid Wynne, Sustainability Manager, Techbuyer, tells us about a project to reclaim and reuse critical raw materials. The CEDaCI Project is led by London South Bank University and Techbuyer is part of the consortium supporting the work.

Technology is rightly hailed as a force for good in making the world a fairer, more sustainable place. However, meeting the needs of an increasingly digitalised society has a material cost. With more and more transactions, processes and communication transferring to the online world, energy usage and greenhouse gasses are increasing faster in this sector than most.

A significant proportion of this is embodied energy in the hardware, which accounts for roughly 50% of overall impact. While this is far from exclusive to the data centre sector – it is something we will need to be increasingly aware of going forward. The good news is that industry is responding with new research projects into more sustainable solutions.

A shift in focus

Historically we have focused on the energy draw of data centres and the introduction of wind and solar as a sustainable solution. Headlines report on issues like Google’s pledge to power 100% of its data centres with locally produced renewable energy as a ‘green story’. However, the use phase is only part of the story. 

Aside from the fact that renewable energy has its own material cost in terms of the hardware required to generate it, there is also the energy needed to make the data centres in the first place, particularly the IT hardware. Another factor to consider is our increased use of digital, which is causing an explosion in the material cost.

Upcoming projects

There is good research on the horizon which should help with the problem. The Intereg-funded CEDaCI project, which Techbuyer joined in June 2019, is a three-year, multi-national project lead by London South Bank University.

It has set some high targets, which include increasing reclamation and reuse of critical raw materials (CRM), extending product life through equipment reuse and remanufacture, reducing the use of virgin materials, waste and the environmental impact arising from the growth in redundant equipment.

At present, only 10% of CRM from the sector are recycled and recovered, but this will increase to 19% and 24% five and 10 years after the project ends; reuse of equipment will also increase to 65% and 75% respectively and at end-of-life overall product ‘waste’ will be reduced to 35% and 25%.  

It is an exciting project to be involved with because it will shine a light on a problem we have only been able to see parts of until now. Solid data on the amount of waste generated by data centres, exactly which materials it contains and where it ends up is difficult to find. The ProSUM project has an excellent resource in its urban mine platform for the EU, which tracks the flow of ICT from manufacture, use to disposal.

However, this is not exhaustive and the statistics for data centre IT hardware are limited to say the least. There are categories for printed circuit boards, HDD drives and cables, but nothing specifically server related. Similarly, gauging the size of the secondary market is a guestimate even for organisations like Free ICT Europe, which promotes and supports it.

This is compounded by the fact no one seems to have exhaustive lists of which materials their equipment contains and in what amounts. I suspect part of the reason for this is the large number of smaller component manufacturers who feed the market. In some cases, assembly sites will swap suppliers at short notice. There seems to be little time to request and file granular information when this happens.  

The three-year CEDaCI project is likely to provide some answers on this. Its multi-disciplined stakeholders include academics, industry consultants, designers, cutting edge recyclers and refurbishment specialists across France, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. We are really excited about being involved because the focus is the same as ours has been for some time: how can we make better use of resources in the sector and what are the tools to make this widespread?

The Data Centre Alliance has also invited us to chair a special interest group on the circular economy, which will begin in the near future and generate a white paper for the industry. Bringing together representatives from various companies in the sector, this will produce practical advice to industry on how to improve material usage and system design. It is a shorter term project than CEDaCI, but all the more valuable for that. Outlining what can be done in the short term is highly valuable.

In among all this, there is the macro picture of the fantastic opportunity digital gives us for a more sustainable future. Green IT has the potential to be a saviour when it comes to limiting greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors. 

Visionaries describe a world where driverless cars are shared between multiple households, run by an algorithm that calculates who needs to be picked up when. Future sharing platforms like these are hailed as a part of the solution that the circular economy represents.  

As a sector, we can help maximise these benefits. Analysing the material cost of digital within the data centre, and taking steps to reduce this, will help create a brighter digital future for all. 

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