75 per cent of organisations will have implemented a data centre infrastructure sustainability program driven by cost optimisation and stakeholder pressures by 2027, up from less than five per cent in 2022, according to technology research and consulting group, Gartner.
According to a Gartner survey of 221 respondents from North America, Europe and APAC conducted in the second half of 2022, environmental performance of IT infrastructure is only one facet of a strong infrastructure and operations (I&O) sustainability strategy, with most sustainability benefits being indirect.
“Responsibilities for sustainability are increasingly being passed down from CIOs to I&O leaders to improve IT’s environmental performance, particularly around data centres,” said Autumn Stanish, senior principal analyst at Gartner. “This has led many down the path of greater spend and investment in environmental solutions, but environmental impact should not be the only focus. Sustainability can also have a significant positive impact on non-environmental factors, such as brand, innovation, resilience and attracting talent.
“Success in aligning the I&O strategy with critical business outcomes requires a more comprehensive approach that recognises the indirect benefits that come with sustainable IT operations. This is true specifically for organisations in which IT is material to the business, such as financial services.”
According to the Gartner survey, the top three indirect benefits include reduced costs, innovation, and better risk management and mitigation.
The most effective action I&O leaders can take for the environment and their budget is to defer purchasing new equipment and better manage, optimise or redeploy what they already have. According to Gartner, organisations can experience up to 60 per cent in cost savings by simply extending product life spans from three to five years. In addition, optimising for better server utilisation and storage capacity is another way to reduce waste and save money.
Additionally, organisations are using sustainable strategies to drive innovation and growth through new products and business models. Technology hardware vendors are rapidly releasing new products and services based on AI technology, analytics insights and circular business models that can be leveraged for innovation. For example, open telemetry platforms may be deployed to track and improve energy efficiency, while simultaneously offering critical insights for IT staff to understand usage patterns that can be optimised for greater, more consistent performance of systems.
“The core focus of many enterprises with a sustainability strategy is actually around how they can use it to drive innovation, differentiation and growth through new products and business models,” Stanish said. “However, fewer than half of I&O leaders we speak to are currently taking advantage of the business benefits beyond reduced energy costs.”
Finally, in a market disrupted by price fluctuations and supply constraints, organisations can achieve greater resilience and better risk management and mitigation by adopting sustainable recycling and resource utilisation practices. This includes organisations using renewable energy, generating their own power, and reusing and redeploying equipment as much as possible.
According to the Gartner survey, more than 85 per cent of business leaders agree that sustainability is an investment that protects the organisation from disruption.
Commenting on the report, Aoife Foley, IEEE senior member and professor in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Queen’s University, Belfast, said that poor storage practices or ‘dark data’ are a massive drain on resources.
“Dark data accounts for about 54 per cent of data that is stored around the world, most of which has no function – all that data comes at a cost. When you look at the way the data is all gathered, it is unstructured. Storing a massive amount of dark data wastes energy, most of which is powered by non-renewable resources. For example, in the United States, power consumption due to data centre data storage was estimated to be at 14 billion kWh in 2020 resulting in almost 6.5 metric tons of CO2 emissions,” noted Foley.
“As this report outlines, achieving sustainability means addressing environmental considerations during solution design as well as during the build. Solutions must meet pre-defined and agreed environmental sustainability criteria. Sustainable data centres require designs that consider energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Businesses and data centres should start by simply taking control of data storage, assessing the storage rules, and ensuring they are not holding data that is no longer needed.
“It is essential that leaders improve their data management policies, identifying which data is in fact valuable, and eliminating any dark or redundant data from their data centres to avoid emissions spiralling out of control and avoid unnecessary digital waste,” concluded Foley. “Leaders should also enquire about their data centre provider’s multi-site footprint and its ability to enable distributed network availability and dynamic load placement. Identifying workloads that can be transferred from peak demand periods to off-peak hours ultimately results in lower costs for all parties.”