Corner OfficeData CenterExpert Opinion

Future Data Centers will be Defined by Clean Energy and Sustainable Solutions

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Over the last few years, India’s data consumption has increased by approximately 17 times, in numbers that convert to close to a billion people accessing the internet. According to a recent report released by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), India has the potential to create over USD 1 trillion of economic value from its digital economy by 2025. And managing the humongous amount of data generated will the ubiquitous data centres (DCs). Gartner predicts user spending of USD 200 billion by the end of 2021 on data center infrastructure, which is 6% higher than the 2020 levels.

Organizations today whether big or small, use data centres to store and manage their user data. The data centres are either traditional, on-premise, or on the Cloud. Other than the business efficiencies and cost benefits provided by a Cloud-based infrastructure, one big incentive for organizations to move to the Cloud comes from environmental concerns.

Data centres hog energy and hosting on the Cloud can reduce energy consumption significantly because of the economies of scale. With the ever-increasing demand for data centres, the environmental crisis we are facing is a cause for alarm.

A report by Mckinsey suggests that data centres are responsible for over two percent of global electricity consumption, which is increasing year on year, making it imperative for operators to follow efficient design and operating principles.

Though sustainable technology, also known as environmental tech or green tech, has been gathering momentum for over a decade, it is only now, with increasing concerns about the climate and the need for immediate action, that we are seeing large-scale movement to the Cloud.

According to a NASSCOM report, “India – The Next Data centres Hub,” the country’s data center market investments are expected to grow at a CAGR of 5% (~2X of the global market) to reach USD 4.6 billion per annum by 2025.

The report also goes on to indicate that India is well-positioned to receive a larger share of global data center investments. While global players increase their investments in India, they will be looking for partners who can provide them with sustainable solutions.

Key steps in the Green journey

 Moving to the Cloud, though an essential first step, is not enough to reduce energy consumption to the desired levels where it makes a substantial positive environmental impact. Data centres need to embrace green technologies to optimize their resource utilization. There is an immediate need for a rigorous, holistic approach to the design and operation of data centres that address the three biggest areas of concern – energy consumption, cooling, and e-waste.

Energy consumption – Data centres are consuming 2% of India’s total power, and about 80% of India’s electricity is generated from fossil fuels. The carbon footprint of that converts to huge social and economic costs for the country. We need to accelerate the shift to renewable resources. And energy-efficient servers designed with minimal power consumption in mind should be installed in data centres.

Cooling – Data centers rely on water-cooled systems – considering 8.6 million data centres are using water cooling technology, the amount of water consumed is huge. Either the water should be treated and reused, or data centres must be built in naturally cold regions to eliminate or reduce the water requirement, or more effective cooling solutions should be used.

e-Waste – A data center uses millions of components to operate, which become obsolete in about 5 to 10 years. The hardware refresh cycles need to be optimized to reduce toxic waste. This can be done through life cycle assessment and refresh cycle optimization of the data centres’ hardware components.

Indian Data Centers becoming more energy efficient

Looking at holistic sustainability, some companies are imbibing green measures through the complete process – right from design, building material, construction, to energy consumption, wastage, etc. Whether it’s setting up captive renewable energy power plants or partnering with third party providers for renewable power purchase, most organisations are taking the Green cause very seriously. The immediate requirement is to build data centres with agile devices that are sustainable or eco-friendly in disposal.

Practices such as reutilizing servers for non-critical apps should be encouraged. Older tech could be sold to the second-hand markets, where they will be repurposed thus reducing waste.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging technology that is helping data centres achieve clean energy goals. AI-driven smart systems can optimize energy usage by consolidating servers and upgrading old and energy inefficient IT infrastructure. Superior air flow management will have a great impact as 25% of all the power consumed by a data center is used only for cooling.

Indian companies are also increasingly focusing on alternate energy, building more wind and solar power facilities for their data centers, to eliminate the carbon footprint generated by fossil fuels.

The Way Forward

Sustainability, driven by business efficiencies, and powered by innovation and green technology, will be the driving force behind the future Data Centre. While emerging technologies and the growing digitization has enabled social and economic empowerment for individuals, businesses, and countries alike, it has also presented all with a responsibility to care for the environment in which we live and work.

Businesses and operators in the sector have a significant part to play in championing and adopting sustainable practices. The data center industry today is constantly looking for ways to become more energy-efficient through real innovation with an aim to reduce their carbon footprint. Embracing green data center trends is also a good way to tap into India’s digital economy that is expected to touch USD 1 trillion by 2025.

India is successfully working on programs to expand its solar and wind energy sources. The target is to achieve an installed renewable energy capacity of 175 GW by 2022. The share of solar energy in the installed power capacity of the country has already risen to 10.7 per cent. This existing infrastructure and expertise can also be deployed to building energy-efficient data centres.

Green data centres must become a mandatory requirement for businesses, no longer a ‘good-to-have’ but a ‘must-have’. Embracing green technology to optimize resource utilization and reduce environmental impact, is the key trend for the future of data centres. With more innovation and newer tech solutions, we will continue to move towards becoming a more responsible and efficient industry.

(Michael Cantor is CIO at Park Place Technologies and the views expressed in this article are his own)

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