Cloud-based computing is a foundational element underlying almost every aspect of how our society operates today. Commerce, healthcare, education, entertainment, financial markets – all these and more rely on the assurance of fast and reliable data processing. Ubiquitous connected devices, the Internet of Things, and shifts in work, entertainment and consumer trends are just some of the factors driving this growth.
To power this digital way of life, data centers are being put into production faster than ever, with projected global spending expected to reach $227 billion in 2022. The data center growth rate worldwide has seen a 17 percent year-over-year trend; high demand means these new centers are often leased before construction has even finished.
However, the explosion in data center construction and operations is being accompanied by concerns about their significant environmental impact. Notoriously power-hungry, data centers can use 50 times the energy per floor than a typical commercial space consumes.
These facilities start out with a substantial embodied carbon load, i.e., the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) associated with transporting raw materials, installation, and other construction elements. Once in operation, they typically require intensive amounts of energy for processing data, cooling, maintenance and security. This heavy usage has not gone unnoticed. Backlash in northern Virginia, the biggest data center market in the world, has slowed down planned data center projects as the public vented frustration over facilities’ climate impact.
Data centers are also being affected by climate change. Due to extreme heat, shutdowns in London and Sacramento this year spurred these operations to pivot to sustainability measures to improve energy performance and protect their assets. Another impetus for improving data centers’ energy use is the pending U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s climate disclosure requirements.
If these measures pass intact, the agency will require public companies to begin reporting climate change risks, including their direct and indirect (Scope 3) emissions, when they file registration statements and annual reports, starting in 2023. Heavy data center users will need to prepare for these rulings, which have the potential to inspire further innovation into lowering emissions across supply chains.
The data center industry has, for the most part, been self-regulating to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, but many are still just starting their sustainability journey. An integral component to successfully weaving sustainability throughout a data center’s operation is having cross-functional teams – facilities, IT, sustainability, energy management, investors, client success – in place. Transparent and data-rich visual reports that can be shared across these teams will build collaboration and inspire more innovation to reduce costs. This information will also support goals toward limiting consumption, reducing environmental impact and increasing redundancy across processes. An obvious launch point is to integrate software solutions that can compile and analyze power consumption operations-wide. Building systems and operations have not typically communicated with the goal of increasing sustainability. However, this collaborative digital layer, with sensors and hardware controllers reading energy data, creates the opportunity to understand and react in real-time to changing conditions.
Hardware/sensors integrated with software can reveal further opportunities to move towards clean-powered operations. Tying the computer infrastructure with a data center’s energy systems can enhance the facility’s Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric through benchmarking and standardization.
The days of the manually tracked spreadsheet, which is labor intensive and invites human error, are over. Linking a data center’s hardware and software systems enables the continuous compilation of vast amounts of energy data that can be analyzed, stored and easily shared between teams. This allows for data-informed decisions that reduce energy use and switch to renewable sources.
Society runs on data, and the need for computer processing will only continue to accelerate. Investing resources toward optimal energy performance while reducing operational costs and emissions is critical as computing needs grow. Data center operators who employ a strategic combination of hardware, software, and dedicated sustainability professionals are poised to create positive change for the industry and our planet.
About the Authors:
As the Data Center Business Development Manager at Distech Controls, Rob Coyle removes barriers in the data center market to enable others to achieve their goals. Coyle is also a program lead in the Open Compute Project, a foundation backed by the world’s largest data center companies.
Kendall has been in the building technologies industry for more than 13 years, and supports the Atrius partner channel, ensuring growth and adoption of the Building Insights platform. Kendall has been in the building technologies industry for more than 13 years. Through her comprehensive view of the industry, she has found a passion for leading organizations in adopting digital technologies and services.