Adopting a circular data centre approach reduces emissions and reduces cost of ownership

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Business leaders worldwide are facing unprecedented data, application workload and infrastructure demands. And the data centre operators scaling to meet those demands are under enormous pressure to be more sustainable and operate greener facilities.

ITRenew, the global leader in circular cloud and data centre transformation, has released its first Data Centre Impact Report “The Financial & Sustainability Case for Circularity.” Building from extensive market research, expert interviews, and proprietary data sets derived from collaboration with the world’s leading hyperscalers, ITRenew conducted a full lifecycle analysis for rack-scale open hardware solutions inclusive of both operational and embodied carbon impact.

 This comprehensive approach makes it possible, for the first time, to accurately calculate the aggregate lifetime value potential of data centre equipment; and to quantify the financial and environmental impact of business decisions throughout the manufacturing, primary use, re-use and post-use phases of that technology. The result is a detailed circular data centre model that businesses can utilise now to significantly improve upon wasteful and financially disadvantageous deploy-and-dispose behaviour pervasive in data centres today.

The research also disproves the myth that financial success and environmental responsibility are mutually exclusive. Extensive analysis proves that hardware circularity – keeping assets in their highest utility for as long as possible – can have significant transformative effects on business models, revenue growth and market access across the data centre ecosystem. The data shows that not only does it potentially create nearly $50 billion in new financial opportunities annually for the largest hyperscale players in the market, but also democratises access and opens up a host of new economic and societal benefits by making premium technology available to, and affordable for, the broader ecosystem.

The unfortunate flipside to sending increasing amounts of data to the cloud – which has driven much of the exponential growth in data centres in recent years – is that the global IT industry is making a significant contribution towards greenhouse gas emissions. The latest figures show that data centres have played a big part in global warming potential (GWP) by exhibiting an increase of 450 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) since 2013, according to the Shift Project.

Recent studies suggest that the IT industry is responsible for a staggering four per cent of global emissions and this is expected to double in the next five years. Over a similar period, the amount of e-waste they generate will surpass 52 million tonnes, on pace to a staggering 120 million tonnes by 2050, according to Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the UN E-Waste Coalition. Between 2019 and 2023 – in data centres with 50 racks or more – approximately 46 million servers will be taken out of service (Gartner, 2019) and will have a CO2 equivalence of 31 million tonnes, roughly the same that 6.7 million cars would produce from their tailpipes in a single year.

To date, operators have concentrated their efforts on improving the energy efficiency of data centres, but with those high stakes, a focus on operational energy efficiency and sourcing renewable power is not enough. It is essential that the entire ecosystem move beyond credits to advanced sustainable practices that truly and meaningfully reduce the environmental impact of massive data centre growth. And the only way to do that is to tackle the bigger infrastructure impact issues that are rarely talked about – how we source hardware, how we extend its lifetime value and what we do with it after end-of-life (EoL).

“The circular data center model addresses the full financial and environmental impact of IT technology at all phases: manufacturing, primary use, re-use and post-use. We’ve quantified the benefits of keeping these assets at their highest utility for as long as possible, and they are both significant and achievable.” Ali Fenn, President of ITRenew, said. “There is tremendous opportunity in the transformation to circular data centres.  Heat can be recaptured and returned to the grid as energy. Facilities’ infrastructure can be made of increasingly sustainable materials. And IT equipment can be cascaded into multiple loops of life, deferring a tremendous amount of new manufacturing and the associated carbon impact and cost. 

“This is not some far-in-the-future vision. Putting circularity at the centre of new business models and critical applications is a key enabler making industry leaders worldwide more sustainable and profitable today. If we use our collective power to drive broad adoption, we can slash CO2 and TCO by 25 per cent or more.

“Keeping assets in their highest utility for as long as possible involves creating secondary and tertiary loops of life for IT hardware that deliver much higher proven lifetime value and lower total cost of ownership for the entire ecosystem. Our goal in developing and championing the adoption of a circular data centre model for the IT industry is to prove that maximising lifetime value, driving sustainability and tackling data centre e-waste on a global scale isn’t some utopian vision, it is real and possible today. The scale of our industry, and the outsized impact we have, makes this both an opportunity and an imperative.

“We offer alternative models to outdated linear paradigms and gives customers innovative solutions that deliver real benefits today, such as major advances in TCO and sustainability. Our proven track record for enabling the creation of new markets and the expansion of existing ones is why the world’s leading hyperscalers, service providers and enterprises maximise the lifetime value of their IT hardware – whether as hyperscale operators or global market users of circular equipment.”

The expansion in the number of data centres around the world has been driven by the monumental growth in the amount of data that is handled – in 2018 this amounted to 33ZB but by 2025 this is expected to reach 175ZB. In turn, this growth in data has been fuelled by greater data collection and computation required for advanced analytics and machine learning (especially deep learning). On a physical level, this manifests itself as increased infrastructure in the form of hyperscale data centres – centres with the ability to scale rapidly to meet increases in demand – that enable flow, storage and availability for all users of such highly-connected and data-dependent services.




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