Driving a sustainable future for colocation amidst rising demand

The data centre market is currently in a state of evolution. In the past, the data centre was the solution for those wanting to take storage off premises, however, due to the pandemic and the resulting growth of remote work, as well as the overall acceleration of digital transformation, there has been a bigger emphasis on shifting entire workloads to the cloud. Lower running costs and higher levels of resilience have already been driving growth in colocation for the past few years but the requirements of the new normal are causing growth in this sector to accelerate even further than originally predicted. The customer capacity and growth requirements that the industry anticipated for 2024 are being realised today instead.

While it is difficult to anticipate future developments, particularly during a time of economic uncertainty, the prospects for continued growth in the industry are looking increasingly positive. The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation for many, with companies experiencing a period of sustained growth as a result, the current belief is that this period of growth will continue past the pandemic. “Once the current uncertainty abates, there will be a massive wave of growth to fulfil previous demand and the newly identified demands,” Scott Willis, CEO of DartPoints, says. “More companies will seek to address the new demands created and identified during this period.”

Accelerated time to market

Despite this period of growth, there are still some challenges ahead. Due to the accelerated need for data centre infrastructure, operators need to work harder to keep up with demands. COVID-19 has also caused tremendous damage to supply chains and construction timeframes, which makes it difficult to meet demand adequately on time. The resulting uncertainty also means that the customers themselves are less likely to take risks. Another challenge that data centres are facing is the rise of sustainability issues such as climate change. Sustainability is an incredibly important issue for the data centre industry, for many, it is paramount for their operation.

“Aligned was founded on the premise of being the most sustainable data centre provider in the world,” Andrew Schaap, CEO at Aligned, adds. “Sustainability permeates every facet of the business, from our modular approach to deploying mechanical and electrical infrastructure to reduce our carbon footprint, to the materials we leverage in data centre construction. We also continue to champion some industry-leading initiatives in the area of sustainability.”

As an industry, data centres are seen as energy hogs. However, more and more in the industry are looking for ways to reduce or reuse energy consumption as well as find new ways to provide power and back-up power to allow facilities to be more energy efficient. For current and potential data centre customers, the issue of sustainability has risen high on their personal agenda. “Sustainability has become a critical aspect of our customer prospects,” Schaap continues. “There is rarely a time where we come across a request or a proposal that doesn’t mention it. I think this will continue to be a priority in the coming future.”

Looking at full sustainability picture

There are several key elements of a data centre that can be focussed on for a sustainability drive including business travel, optimising the office for recycling and the overall energy consumption in the data centre itself. Arguably, the most vital factor is the design. “Design is critical as it lays the foundation for the operational efficiency of our data centres,” Willis continues. “Utilising the latest data centre technology and server technology allows us to constantly improve.”

The importance of design can be demonstrated in the cooling process, many feel that the cooling process will need to have its role changed in a future sustainable data centre. While having an effective cooling system is critical in every data centre, there are ways that the process can be made more energy efficient. The design of the data centre is one of those ways. “Using as little as possible and conserving what you have is vital,” Willis adds. “If one door is left open for a few minutes, this can have a drastic effect on cooling in the data centre. This is why design is so critical upfront.”

Alternatives to back up power, such as fuel cells and biofuels, are also being considered by data centres. However, there are difficulties in implementing this technology. “The cost of these alternatives and the added risk to operations have not led us to use alternatives to diesel gen-sets currently,” Phillip Marangella, chief marketing officer at EdgeConneX, says. “Despite this, we continue to explore alternative avenues to diesel gen-sets and as these options make economic and risk sense then we will implement them.”   

Targeting and measuring the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives is critical to their success. “We are committed to reducing our environmental impact by collecting and analysing data on sustainability factors,” Noel O’Grady, director at Sungard Availability Services Ireland, said. “We also report and track the accomplishment of data centre efficiency goals by location.” Most of a data centres carbon footprint will come from the energy that they use, however, other factors need to be considered such as the office location and the travel that is undertaken whilst doing business. Just focussing on one potential factor will not be enough to create a truly sustainable data centre.

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