How to revolutionise data centres for a sustainable tomorrow

How to revolutionise data centres for a sustainable tomorrow

Uwe Erlenwein, Head of Data Centre Construction, IONOS, addresses the data centre’s race to net zero with strategies for operators to hit carbon emissions targets, and outlines the environmental improvements at IONOS.

Companies around the world are embarking on a journey towards net zero, undoubtedly driven by their own desires for a more sustainable future but also by government policies and targets. The UK has committed to reaching net zero by 2050 and recently pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. 

Yet across all sectors, there is an increasing reliance on advanced digital technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing, which is resulting in greater demand for High Performance Computing (HPC) capacity within data centres. In turn, making data centres even more energy-hungry than they already were. 

If we’re to reach net zero within the next 30 years, it’s critical therefore that data centres are designed and continually adapted with advanced technologies and HPC in mind. According to JLL’s 2023 Global Data Center Outlook, sustainability and energy efficiency are top priorities for data centre operators, and those who react the fastest and improve both energy and water usage will gain a competitive edge. So, what are some of the ways that can be achieved? 

Renewable energy 

At IONOS, we are actively working to reduce Scope 1 emissions from diesel throughout our data centres by switching to biofuel-powered generators where possible. We are also continuing our commitment to sourcing 100% renewable electricity. The use of solar photovoltaic panels is an effective way to generate renewable energy onsite without any losses for transformations and transportations in the grid. We are planning to have these across at least 50% of our data centres by 2030.  

Cooling systems  

As the servers in data centres emit heat when they are working, it’s critical that cooling systems are in place – however over 40% of the energy required in the running of a data centre can be attributed to cooling. In our data centres, we make use of direct-to-chip cooling to reduce the need for energy-costly fans. This means we place heat sinks on CPUs and GPUs where the fluid is running through.

We can run very high temperatures in the system and only need free cooling to get the right supply temperature (45°C). So, no need for compressor cooling which saves a lot of energy.

This also helps in re-using the heat. For example, delivering heat to district networks that would otherwise be wasted. With a return temperature between 50-60°C, it makes it possible to use in low temperature district heat networks without any further need for increasing the temperature by separate heat pumps and additional energy.

Data centre operators could also make use of liquid cooling, which involves IT equipment being completely submerged in fluid.      

Use energy efficient hardware

In addition to cooling your systems in a more efficient way, it’s also critical to ensure that the IT hardware itself is energy efficient. That includes optimised power management techniques and supplies as well as innovative design. At IONOS, we develop our own energy efficient IT hardware in-house. The advantages in doing so include greater cost savings, longer lifespan for the technology, not to mention the reduction in energy as we head towards net zero. 

We also engineer and design our own cooling technologies for our data centres, not just liquid cooling but also for air, and we also look beyond our direct operations to measure and reduce the entire value chain. 

In 2024, we will establish a carbon footprint and explore actions in areas that are most likely to be high impact, such as server lifecycle and data centre construction. As a first step, we will engage 90% of our key tech-ops suppliers by spend, to set supplier climate targets.

While data centres account for the majority of IONOS’ impact, we are also targeting 100% renewable electricity in our global offices, adding up to 100% renewable electricity use overall. Additionally, we will target 100% electric vehicles in the company car fleet.

Worcester data centre as a blueprint

In October 2022, we opened our most sustainable data centre to date in Worcester, UK, which will serve as a blueprint for how we build and design data centres in the future. Some of the sustainability design features incorporated include: 

  • 10% of total energy from on-site solar power 
  • Backup generators powered by biofuel, reducing carbon emissions by 90% 
  • Carbon neutral (offset) steel used in construction
  • On-site bee and bug hotels to improve local insect biodiversity   
  • Best in class energy efficiency  

The road to net zero can seem somewhat daunting, but for data centre operators, there are a plethora of ways to cut down energy use and ensure we’re on track to reach the 2050 goal.

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