How the push for sustainability is driving data centre innovation

December 28 2020, by Macquarie Technology Group | Category: Data Centres

Sustainability is becoming an undeniable business imperative. Public and shareholder pressure is driving corporations to take a more active role in reducing their environmental impact and to operate in more sustainable ways. What’s more, corporations are being tasked to set goals and publicly document results, which in turn is contributing to more open and transparent discussions about how various industries are performing and what more we can do, collectively, to achieve key targets.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are one such collective of targets guiding the global push for sustainability. The 17 interlinked goals are designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. Initially handed down in 2015, they were reviewed in 2020, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030.

The role of IT in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

There are important synergies between digital innovation and accelerating progress on the SDGs. 2020 has shown us that IT and digital infrastructure is critical to the wellbeing of the world – connecting us and helping industries remain operational despite various lockdowns and disruptions. But it has also shown us that the IT industry is one of the biggest users of energy – compounding daily with the exponential growth of data and increased demand for its storage.

While the data centre industry is still largely hamstrung by cost considerations to radically transform how facilities are run, it is anticipated that the sector will make sustainability a focus in 2021 and beyond. Everything from data centre design, right through to power usage and the application of AI and automation technology, can and will be monitored through a sustainable lens.

Hyperscalers have set a path for success.

Many of the world’s biggest companies have already committed to more sustainable practices. Earlier this month, Amazon said it has become the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy after signing agreements to purchase energy from 26 wind and solar projects around the world, including three in Australia. These projects will supply renewable energy for Amazon’s corporate offices, fulfilment centres, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) availability zones.

Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are also delivering greener operations. Facebook focuses on sustainable design and construction with each of its new high-performing data centres. While the three big cloud providers (AWS, Google and Microsoft), who account for approximately two-thirds of all rentable computing services, consistently look to weed out inefficiencies in the hardware and software within their data centres. They run virtual machines on their servers to limit downtime, have custom cooling systems and automate wherever possible to achieve this goal. While these factors relate to their own data centres, these hyperscalers also look for the same features and opportunities when selecting colocation partners.

Colocation providers, like Macquarie Data Centres, are working in lockstep with the world’s biggest hyperscalers to become more sustainable. While it can be easier to achieve this through new builds, like our IC3 data centre campus, there are also opportunities to improve existing operations as part of regular maintenance procedures.

Changes to WUE and PUE.

With conventional data centers consuming serious amounts of water and energy every day, operators have been striving over the years to better optimise Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE), as well as the more traditional Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE).

We have been improving the water usage at our existing data centres whilst embedding sustainability into our new facilities under construction. To give a new lease of life to our IC1 facility in Sydney’s CBD we recently overhauled a number of critical parts, including replacing the UPSs, cooling towers, radiators and CRACs. We instantly saw approximately 30% reduction in the volume of water required to operate our cooling towers, while the average annual PUE fell from 1.90 to approximately 1.70 – both of which exceeded initial engineering assessments.

In the coming years, we expect to see WUE and PUE levels embedded into service provider contracts for prospective customers, as companies become more aware of their carbon footprint and commit more heavily to reducing the environmental impact of their operations. Greater flexibility in facility designs will also mean operators can enable optimum levels of efficiency at lower loads.

Innovating with AI and IoT

Innovations within AI, automation and IoT can also help drive data centre sustainability. AI and IoT can make data centres ‘greener’ and support real-time optimisation. Using statistical algorithms and predictive analytics, AI and IoT tools can help manage temperature, ventilation and other environmental factors.

IoT technologies such as, LitBit, can also diagnose problems within the data centre including water leaks and cooling issues. Technologies like this have already helped Google optimise its servers and cut its energy bill by 40 per cent. Gathering information from sensors on the server racks, Google’s deep learning AI tool helped to regulate the water pipes and cool its data centre environment.

There’s no doubt our industry has a major role to play in helping achieve the UN’s SDGs and specifically Goal #9: Industries, Innovation and Infrastructure. With nine years to achieve the goals, we need to work together and create strong action towards sustainable development and more resource efficiency across the IT and data centre sector. While hyperscalers are driving demand for more sustainable operations, regular maintenance of existing facilities, and the deployment of new and innovative technologies are also critical to our sector’s success. We are committed to building and operating data centres that enable your organisation’s sustainable initiatives and support the long term health of our planet and its people.

Interested to learn more? Contact us now.