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The Sustainability Paradox

Nick Ewing, Managing Director, EfficiencyIT

In recent years data centres have come under increasing scrutiny for both their impact on the environment and the demands they place on energy infrastructure. An article in Science Magazine estimates that today data centres account for around 1% of worldwide electricity use. However, given that capacity requirements globally are continuing to advance at a rapid rate, energy demands are likely only to increase. A new report from Knight Frank, for example, states a 10% increase in new supply across EMEA, which totals 180MW of new supply. 

There also remains the environmental challenges of recycling equipment that has reached its end of life, and the growing CO2 emissions from data centres at the edge.  The question, therefore, has to be asked, can the world afford to sustain the number of data centres that are currently in place, and what changes are needed for those being built in the future?

Certainly, the ‘sustainability’ issue is one of increasing concern, and is being addressed by regulators, and legislators across the industry itself. The Climate Neutral Data Pact, for example, adopted by many hyperscale and colocation providers in Europe, commits its signatories to become carbon neutral by 2030, guiding new and legacy operators alike to attain greater operating efficiencies, and implement measurable sustainability targets. 

Greater attention is also being paid to both optimising PUE (power usage effectiveness) ratings, and the need to implement energy efficiency or modernisation programs. Further still, the growing use of mandatory renewable energy, and a willingness to experiment with microgrids or reusable on-site energy storage is another positive contributing factor to sustainability. 

A paradox remains, however. Legacy data centres, those most in need of improving their power consumption, efficiency and sustainability ratings, are among those least likely to procure the technologies to enable them to do so. 

Regardless of the pronouncements of those concerned with Corporate Social Responsibility CSR), where sustainability is a key concern for the operator and their suppliers, the harsh reality is that tender documents for modernization programs rarely, if ever, make any mention of a need to meet sustainability criterion. 

The fact is that sustainability ambitions at the C-level are a far cry from many procurement teams, and when this issue arises, it imparts the view that operators don’t necessarily want the most efficient technologies; they want the cheapest. 

Until sustainability becomes a quantifiable, achievable element of a Request for Quotation (RFQ) or Request for Procurement (RFP), it will remain, for the majority of legacy data centres, simply something for other people to worry about. New data centres can indeed be built for sustainability, but legacy sites remain the issue. 

Changing this mindset will require a concerted effort throughout the supply chain, from technology vendors to operators, and from the C-Level to procurement. Sustainability can only be achieved via the right design, embracing circular practices and by using the right technical infrastructure. 

Changing the business case to focus on long-term strategic outcomes, such as reduced operating expenses, lower TCO, or decreasing carbon emissions is far more effective than simply shaving off infrastructure costs. Such an approach requires greater collaboration, communication and transparency. 

Regrettably, sustainability is not free; it requires investment. There is a price to be paid for procuring better management software, more advanced UPS systems and by paying greater attention to inefficient mission-critical systems in need of modernisation. There are many benefits to be gained in the long term, and a joined up, transparent and collaborative approach will not only help the industry thrive, it will significantly reduce its impact on the environment. 

What’s clear, however, is that while procurement are still incentivised to ignore sustainability in favour of the lowest cost-of-purchase, it will remain ambiguous, and change will be slow. Sustainability doesn’t need to be a paradox, but the focus on ROI needs to change before it will become a reality. 

About EfficiencyIT

Specialising in edge computing environments, cloud transformation and mission-critical IT solutions, EfficiencyIT (EIT) was borne from the ideals of a like-minded group of individuals who saw the data centre and IT landscape changing dramatically. Today our customers are responsible for some of the most critical technology operations in the world and our mission is to empower them to innovate and to relentlessly support their business objectives by underpinning them with efficient, forward-thinking, digital infrastructure.

Partnered with Schneider Electric, Microsoft, Mimecast and Cisco, we continue to challenge the status quo of what is acceptable versus what is achievable, within traditional data centre and IT infrastructures. #BornEfficient