How colocation services can help drive data centre sustainability 

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Data centres are integral to every facet of our lives, and the demand for capacity is growing at a phenomenal rate. As the world becomes more digitised, the requirements for colocation, in addition to other types of data centre infrastructure, will continue to accelerate growth. 

The pandemic made people realise that colocation could have a hugely positive impact in ensuring business continuity – a trend that started in lockdown and is something that is continuing to gather pace.  

More businesses are realising that their strengths lie within the areas in which they specialise, such as the products they make or sell, and that, most importantly, they are not data centre developers or operators. High-performance colocation can provide much greater flexibility than on-premises infrastructure, and greater economies of scale can be achieved with a hybrid approach. With power prices spiralling, ensuring their compute is hosted within a facility that is ultra-efficient, with the ability to scale cost effectively and sustainably, will be vital to managing OPEX and maintaining a competitive edge. 

Sustainability has become a key selection criterion for end-users, and, according to Jason Pullen, senior design manager at Kao Data, it has been included on every request for proposal (RFP) they have received for some time. Sustainability is now considered as crucial as pricing, technical specification and site-security. 

That step-change is supported by industry research from companies such as Schneider Electric, which shows that 97 per cent of colocation customers are demanding contractual commitments to sustainability, clearly demonstrating how much the topic has grown among the end-user community. 

“At Kao Data, we believe that it is essential that colocation operators are proactively taking steps to reduce their environmental impact and can demonstrate sustainable performance,” says Pullen. “It is the responsibility of each and every one of us in the industry to push boundaries and ensure we are working towards net-zero carbon.” 

Pullen asserts that sustainability has been part of the DNA of Kao Data from the inception of the business, and has been central to every decision the company has made. This approach, he says, has ensured that sustainability has been a key factor in site selection, through to design, build, and operations, and even the way in which they host their customers’ choice of infrastructure. 

“As a business, our preference is to build on brownfield land, or acquire facilities that have significant potential for sustainable modernisation. A key example of our approach to brownfield developments is in our KLON-01 facility, which has achieved BREEAM excellent status. In essence, this means the data centre has been designed to be an environment that enhances the well-being of the people who live and work in it, while helping to protect natural resources.” 

Key sustainability decisions in design 

For Pullen, the key to achieving sustainability in their colocation data centre design. Kao’s Harlow data centre uses digital twin modelling technology, allowing them to test their facilities under various environmental conditions.  

Additionally, power to the site is 100 per cent green, with every electron consumed matched by equivalent capacity generated at a specific local wind farm asset, and the company has installed EV charging points across the campus to encourage the use of electric vehicles. 

From a deployment perspective, temperature thresholds within all data halls remain in line with ASHRAE standards, and their choice of cooling infrastructure means they can deliver SLA-backed levels of efficiency, no matter the scale or density used by their customers.   

Last year, Kao became the first UK data centre operator to transition all the diesel in their backup power generators to 100 per cent hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). This eliminates 90 per cent of net CO2, reduces particulate matter by 13 per cent and delivers a six per cent reduction nitrogen oxide.  

This approach, combined with their choice of highly efficient cooling infrastructure, has allowed them to deliver an SLA-backed PUE of 1.2, and accommodate high-performance computing architectures with a reduced carbon footprint. 

Many customers will utilise PUE and WUE as part of their sustainability measurements, but Pullen says that it is also essential for customers to consider their supply chain, the partners they work with, and the infrastructure they are deploying.  

From a PUE standpoint, Kao monitors energy usage at the rack-level, ensuring that their customers always have a precise measure of their power consumption. 

“All of these steps underpin our ambition to become net-zero on, or before, 2030, and meet the guidelines set out by the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact,” adds Pullen. 

“Breaking the mould and taking design inspiration from the hyperscale community has enabled us to improve design, layout, and power utilisation, all while adhering to strict engineering standards and deliver industry-leading levels of sustainability.” 

Finding the right infrastructure balance 

Despite hyperscale facilities boasting a wealth of sustainability options and upgrades, colocation services remain competitive, and even preferential, for many organisations. 

“At the industrial-scale end of the spectrum, colocation has become the bridge between on-premises and the cloud, and we truly believe they complement one another,” concludes Pullen. “Our own research, however, has found significant differences in terms of cost. For AI start-ups, deploying their infrastructure in a high-performance colocation facility can save over 70 per cent of OPEX compared to choosing hyperscale cloud.” 

Organisations who might have once argued that on-premises infrastructure was the biggest competitor to colocation data centres are now finding that a hybrid environment is more beneficial in terms of cost, performance, and sustainability. In fact, Pullen argues that the impact of HPC, AI, and GPU-accelerated technologies is forcing customers to reconsider how they deploy and manage their infrastructure, and, for many, this approach much incorporate on-premises compute, high-performance colocation, and connectivity to the cloud. 

“What remains crystal clear, however, is that low latency connectivity remains central for businesses, which is why it is essential to ensure that customers’ compute is perfectly connected to their on-premises infrastructure, with organisations like Megaport providing seamless access to the cloud.” 

With the right mix of efficiency measures, sustainable design, and cost effectiveness, colocation services have a bright future ahead. 

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