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Experts discuss the importance of a collaborative approach in the data centre industry

Experts discuss the importance of a collaborative approach in the data centre industry

AnalysisData CentresIndustry ExpertInsightsThought LeadershipTop Stories

Last November, BRE Global announced the release of the Data Centre Annex Pilot which is to be used alongside the BREEAM New Construction International manual. The Annex provides data centre buildings with the ability to assess and improve their sustainability and environmental performance against the current BREEAM New Construction International manual for new-build projects around the world. Industry experts offer their opinions on the subject.

Marc Garner, Vice President, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric UK&I

Concern over the effects of climate change are forcing the data centre industry to pay greater attention to sustainability. This cannot be done by individuals, companies or the industry in isolation; collaboration is essential to deliver a viable, sustainable and digitised future.

Examples of formal collaborative efforts to address sustainability at an international level include the Climate Group’s global EP100 and EV100 initiatives, which bring together companies committed to improving their energy productivity and the transition towards electrical vehicles; and the RE100, a  group of major companies that have committed to using 100% renewable power. These initiatives reflect two key concerns: how do we generate energy more sustainably; and how do we use it more efficiently?

For the latter, the data centre sector plays an important role in improving processes and efficiency across today’s technology industries. The Internet of Things (IoT) depends on a resilient digital infrastructure to deliver on that promise. Here, the industry must set an example, driving process and energy efficiencies in its own operation, while assisting the next generation of technology professionals to do the same.

For data centres, this can be achieved in several ways: through more stringent management of industry processes and adherence to new standards; deployment of next-generation data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) systems, which utilise AI and cloud computing to deliver increased insights into performance metrics and energy consumption; and via pre-integrated products or solutions that leverage open technologies and allow vendors to collaborate on established industry standards, while competing only on the merits of their products.

Greater standards and pre-integration will also drive interoperability of industry-leading technologies, ensuring customers deploy only the most energy efficient solutions, which at the data centre level will comprise power, cooling, security, processing and networking equipment. This becomes even more important with the advocacy of 5G, where it is well documented that telco energy usage across the Edge Computing environment is set to dwarf that of current data centres. Therefore, a new set of standards, potentially similar to PUE, must be created for the Edge and telco.

When combined with next-gen DCIM software, these Edge Computing solutions can themselves be deployed more sustainably, efficiently and with lower energy usage.

Schneider Electric is committed to following UN Sustainable Development Goals, with 75% of our turnover in the Digital Transformation of energy management, which delivers greater efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions. Between 2015-2025, we will invest €10 billion in R&D and innovation, aimed at sustainability and to-date, our carbon neutrality programme has resulted in Schneider Electric customers saving 100 million tons of CO2 through our offers. Our target is to achieve carbon neutrality across all our sites by 2025 and to achieve net-zero operational emissions by 2030.

Most importantly, we intend to have net-zero omissions throughout our entire supply chain, including suppliers, by 2050. Such ambitious targets are not achievable by one company acting on its own, meaning a collaborative approach is essential to achieve these goals.

Gerard Thibault, CTO, Kao Data

The demand for data centre services is growing rapidly; the rise in digital technologies and their associated uses has escalated year on year and shows no signs of slowing. With just under half the global population still to come online, the role that data centres play in our everyday lives will only increase in significance.

Some industry analysts have forecast that data centres will consume as much as 20% of global electricity by 2025. With such large numbers forecast, collaboration in our industry, including the extended supply-chain, will need to be an absolute requirement if we are to ensure sustainability, reduce carbon emissions and create more efficient processes.

However, for a collaborative approach to succeed in any industry, a large amount of openness and transparency is required. This can be immensely challenging when the industry is fiercely competitive and at times incredibly secretive. One could argue that legislation needs to be in place to ensure future data centre facilities are designed and built to a specific standard, however the fields of technology and legislation have rarely moved at the same pace. In some instances, this could be a potential hindrance to the innovation and development of ideas that can move the industry forward.

The Green Grid, the Open Compute Project and the EU Code of Conduct have provided metrics and guidelines around energy consumption and efficiency, but organisations such as these are largely voluntary. While there is a tremendous amount of focus on the large hyperscale cloud and colocation providers, there is very little focus on enterprise facilities.

A report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2016 on US data centres concluded that despite electricity consumption rising for more than a decade and an increase in the deployment of large hyperscale facilities, consumption had started to plateau, largely due to the significant increases in the operating efficiencies of these new and larger facilities, making them less energy intensive.

The data centre industry is the subject of scrutiny and constant review by industry analysts and consultants. It is relatively easy in this day and age to find the total technical floor space of a colocation provider, or the amount of MW powering a new hyperscale facility. However, the majority of inefficient legacy infrastructure sits within the enterprise sector, which is largely unpublished. As companies migrate their services to hyperscale and colocation providers, inefficient legacy infrastructure will gradually reduce. However, this is not a quick process – migrating existing workloads comes with a completely new set of challenges that involve a variety of different stakeholders within a business.

In order to maximise the sustainability and efficiency of the sector, I believe that greater collaboration will be required from customers and vendors alike, to ensure new infrastructure design and delivery meets the real market requirements.

Stephane Duproz, CEO of Africa Data Centres

Dwindling resources, ever-growing amounts of data, rising energy costs and consumption demands for computing remain top concerns for data centre operators across the board. Add to that the slew of new technologies such as analytics and Artificial Intelligence, which demands greater power to support their massive workloads and it’s easy to understand why data centre sustainability is a global challenge affecting businesses, countries and workloads. However, there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution.

Although data centre performance demands continue to skyrocket, operational cost budgets have remained flat or have even shrunk, forcing data centre operators to do more with less and find ways to get more performance with limited power resources, all while lowering their carbon footprint.

Even though there have been steps in the right direction towards a more sustainable data centre industry, many operators or facility owners have focused on their individual goals, as opposed to working together to share best practice and find the best way to move towards a more sustainable future.

Greater transparency in sustainable practices among data centre industry players will go a long way towards bettering collaboration to find ways to reduce the currently rising carbon emissions in the industry. Bear in mind that technological innovation is happening at an unprecedented rate, so the industry needs to work together to find solutions to be more mindful of our planet and environment.

Ultimately, the growth in the amount of data requires data centre providers to join forces with governments and players in the sustainable energy sector, rather than working alone. Together, we can work towards a future of renewable energy to build a more sustainable industry, which includes doing our best to meet sustainability goals, using more natural sources of energy such as solar, hydro, wind and encouraging energy suppliers to do the same.

The need for data centre operators to collaborate with energy providers and public sector organisations to ensure our use of sustainable energy has never been greater – it is the only way we can ensure that our growing dependence on technology for both our business and personal lives is sustainable.

Moreover, all data centre operators should bear environmental factors in mind throughout the design process and from the ground up. These factors, while including power and cooling, need to expand beyond these to include more innovative ways to go greener.

At Africa Data Centres, we believe in doing our part towards greener energy goals. Since March last year, the solar project on the roof of our facility in Nairobi has 136 kWh already operational and producing 193 200 kWh of solar energy per year and to date, we have been generating clean solar power in line with all our system projections. We are also in the process of constructing a 10MW project at our Johannesburg Campus, which also houses our Johannesburg facility.

We aim to operate extremely efficient data centres, source as much low carbon and renewable energy as possible and always look to expand our partnerships with government and energy providers.

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