Cloud and data centres can be sustainable, some are already

 Without doubt, we are a cloud-based society. But people don’t think about the backend consequences of every day usage such as Netflix streaming or even sending an email. This revolution in cloud has led to an explosion in energy usage making cloud an ever-growing contributor to carbon emissions and climate change.  

The energy usage comes from where clouds actually live - housed on servers in huge nondescript buildings called data centres. To survive and thrive the cloud needs this complex network of global data centres. Currently data centres, the internet and cloud account for two percent of the world’s 50 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gasses every year. Some models predict that if left unchecked, cloud and data centre energy usage could engulf over 10 percent of the global electricity supply by 2030. To reduce their impact, the EU Commission recently set a “green deadline”, noting that the industry "should become climate neutral by 2030.”  

With business and consumer appetite for all things digital constantly growing, how can cloud and data centres keep up with demand whilst at the same time, reduce carbon emissions? 


Is tech the solution to itself? 

Ironically, it’s the ICT industry itself whose innovations are improving the efficiency of the technology we use and reduce carbon emissions. Despite a huge increase in the compute loads of data centres between 2010 and 2018, actual energy usage rose only marginally. Studies show that the industry’s power demands rose just six percent in the time it took for the equivalent compute capacity to jump 550 percent. 

It’s critical that cloud and data centre providers work collectively to meet environmental commitments. Some are already making positive steps and it’s not just the planet that benefits - becoming energy efficient makes commercial, as much as environmental sense.  


Energy efficiency from inception 

Forward thinking data centre providers design and build their facilities with energy efficiency in mind from the start, adopting the latest in building technologies and sustainable sourcing of materials. Establishing proactive sustainability and efficiency measures at inception and leveraging the latest technology, cloud and data centre providers can ensure their facilities are operated and maintained more sustainably. By adhering to BREEAM standards that look at the environmental credentials of commercial buildings, verifying their performance and comparing them against sustainability benchmarks, providers can demonstrate their “green” credentials. 


Renewable energy sources 

Another step towards becoming more environmental and sustainable is moving away from fossil fuels. Cloud and data centre providers are particularly well placed to benefit from renewable energy sources due to their stable power consumption. Some operators are already achieving 100 per cent renewable energy in their buildings, resulting in lower emissions of carbon and other types of pollution, as well as cost efficiencies. And, according to Greenpeace, in the UK 76.5 percent of the electricity purchased by commercial data centre operators is 100 percent certified renewable. 


Efficient cooling 

Cooling is the most power-hungry area of cloud and data centre management. On average, as much as 40 percent of a facility’s electricity consumption goes towards cooling the servers. By increasing the efficiency of cooling systems, environmental impact can be reduced. Efficiencies can be found in a variety of innovative design elements whilst actually lowering costs; such as utilising robust hot aisle containment, free-cooling functionality and adopting the latest industry leading technologies.   

A positive sustainability strategy will not only cut costs and boost efficiency, it will also help meet customer demands. Businesses are now asking providers for evidence of robust sustainability and carbon reduction measures to complement their own, and are choosing data centre providers based, in part, on whether they are delivering on an environmentally sound strategy. However, customers should be mindful that there are “shades of green”. Some data centre providers are more sustainable than others, despite all of them claiming green-credentials.  

Author: By David Watkins, Solutions Director for VIRTUS Data Centres 

This insight is part of techUK's Cloud Week 2020. You can find related news and insights here.

  • Sue Daley

    Sue Daley

    Associate Director | Technology & Innovation
    T 020 7331 2055

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