Creating sustainable digital infrastructure

The need for digital infrastructure, spearheaded by the data centre industry, has never been greater. Data transfer and storage underpins every facet of our lives today, from business and commerce to healthcare and leisure. With this reliance on data and digital infrastructure only expected to grow in the future, it has become increasingly obvious that it must also conform to global net-zero emissions targets. As a rapidly growing industry, it is important that sustainability be baked into the fabric of new digital infrastructure from the outset.

Roger Suess is the CEO of The Green Group (Green), a company which comprises of two main businesses – one which focuses on supporting small to medium enterprises in their mission to access the cloud, and the other which provides data centre solutions. He joined the company in 2019, after spending 25 years in the IT infrastructure industry, and says that the most interesting change that he has witnessed in recent years is the amount of traditional, big companies that own their own data centre and IT facilities.

“These companies are starting to realise that they want to adopt the cloud, but also that it is quite hard to run infrastructure well and keep the pace of innovation in the data centre field – particularly when it comes to sustainability – while also running them in an economic and ecological manner.”

Building and operating a green data centre

As their name suggests, Green can provide the necessary support to their clients from a sustainability perspective, covering everything from cloud computing and the application layer, through to the building and the grid.

“One of the first things that we did when I joined was that we entirely switched all of our services so that everything we deliver is via sustainable, renewable power,” explains Suess. “The idea of sustainability, and the big claim for us, is that we are moving forward together – building the clever ideas and solutions with have as a team with our clients.”

“For me, it is all about sustainability, and I think there is a big difference in not just making one or the other, where you feel you are trading efficiency and economies against ecologically sustainable services. We want to do both and want to do that well, building trust with clients, partners, and staff.”

To that end, Green began by starting to change their data centre design. Their newest campus, based in Zurich, Switzerland, was built with high-quality, sustainable materials, and includes some of the latest technologies in sustainable operations. Their design incorporated as much free cooling as possible, while adding heat to the grid and giving it back to the public and partners to use in regulating building temperature.

Solar power is also used to provide power for data centre machinery, and as a way of providing electricity for electric bicycles and cars. Meanwhile, Green add stability to the Swiss grid by pushing back excess energy which is generated through testing generators or an oversupply of solar power.

“It really is a case of making sure to start thinking about how to bring all these things together at the design process,” reasons Suess.

Is legislation for data centre sustainability necessary?

With governments now taking an interest in data centre infrastructure, legislation to ensure it complies with their net-zero emissions targets is beginning to take shape. In Germany, for example, the environment ministry has recently released a study on the sustainability of data centres and is proposing a mandatory carbon footprint for operators.

Suess argues that, in today’s data centre industry, much of the carbon footprint is generated by very inefficient, company-owned utilities which run their power usage effectiveness (PUE) at or beyond two. In comparison, commercial data centres that focus on PUE can drive much closer to one, which is the goal for Green.

“Coming from the banking industry, I have seen what regulations can do, and it is not always beneficial to do it through politics,” explains Suess. “For us, it is important that the carbon footprint is understood from the outset so that you can plan the sustainability measures at the design process. So, this type of legislation certainly is not an advantage for us.

“If the stakes get higher and more is demanded, we are already educating the clients to understand the full equation for their carbon footprint. For ourselves, we have calculated our carbon footprint and are getting towards carbon neutral already.

“Regulations just add further difficulties, and people often do not differentiate between the data centre side of things, what is their influence, and what is the load that the client holds. People might not immediately associate that with sustainability, but we at Green have a highly instrumented data centre, and we can advise the client in many ways.”

A benchmark of sustainable digital infrastructure

Green have been recognised for the achievements they have made in the field of digital infrastructure. In April 2021, they announced that they had been awarded the Uptime Institute’s Management & Operations (M&O) Stamp of Approval, the first commercial data centre provider in Switzerland to receive the award.

The M&O assessment evaluates all aspects of operations, including planning, coordination, and management, staffing and organisation, training, operating conditions, and maintenance. It provides an unbiased, independent assessment which confirms that a data centre meets a set of benchmarks that promote effective data centre best practices and minimise human error, which is a leading cause of data centre failure.

With the construction of another 46,000 m2 data centre campus near Zurich and having received the internationally recognised Uptime Institute’s M&O award, the future looks bright for Green as it fulfils its growth strategy.

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