Energy efficiency to loom large for data centre industry in 2023

energy efficiency

Data centres will experience increased regulation and third-party oversight in 2023 as the world continues to grapple with the industry’s rising energy and water consumption against the backdrop of ongoing climate change. The intensified focus on the overall environmental and community impact of the data centre is one of five industry trends for 2023 identified by the global data centre experts at Vertiv, a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions.

“The data centre industry is growing rapidly as more and more applications require compute and storage, driving a corresponding rapid increase in energy and water use in data centre facilities. The industry has understood that pursuing energy and water efficiency aggressively is key for future success and survival,” said Giordano Albertazzi, Vertiv chief operating officer and president, Americas. “Increased regulation is inevitable and will lead to important innovations across our industry. The process may not always be easy or linear, but it can be navigated with the help of expert data centre partners and innovative solutions that can anticipate the changes while meeting the always increasing requirements of the data centre applications.”

The advances in chip design and manufacturing that limited server power consumption through the first decade and a half of the 2000s reached their limits in recent years, and a spike in the amount of energy servers use has followed. In a recent report, ‘Silicon heatwave: the looming change in data centre climates‘, the Uptime Institute cited data from the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) that showed server power consumption increasing by 266 per cent since 2017. This surge is among various technical and market forces driving the focus on environmental awareness and sustainability in several of the 2023 trends identified by Vertiv’s experts.

For one, mounting pressures to meet consumer demand for energy and water are forcing governments at all levels to take a harder look at data centres and their outsized consumption of those resources. Vertiv’s experts expect this to prompt increasing governmental scrutiny in 2023, and this is something which is already happening in some places. Dublin, Ireland, and Singapore have taken steps to control data centre energy use, and data centre water consumption – especially in areas prone to drought – is likely to trigger similar scrutiny. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the water usage effectiveness (WUE) of an average data centre using evaporative cooling systems is 1.8L per kWh. That type of data centre can consume three to five million gallons of water per day – similar to the capacity used by a city of 30,000-50,000 people. The industry will continue to take steps to self-monitor and moderate – including an increasing preference for environmentally-friendly thermal designs – but 2023 will see increases in regulatory oversight.

Additionally, a recent Omdia survey shows that 99 per cent of enterprise data centre operators say prefabricated, modular data centre designs will be a part of their future data centre strategy. That’s more than a trend; it is the new normal. In 2023, Vertiv’s experts anticipate a continuing shift in the same direction among hyperscalers as they seek the speed and efficiencies standardisation delivers.

The third industry trend expected by Vertiv is that diesel generators will see real competition. The diesel generator has long been an imperfect but inescapable piece of the data centre ecosystem. It represents stored energy that largely goes unused while still requiring maintenance or fuel replacement after periods of inactivity. In 2023, Vertiv’s experts anticipate a preferred alternative will emerge – specifically hydrogen fuel cells. These fuel cells will function much like a generator at first, providing momentary load support, and eventually hold promise for sustained or even continuous operation.

Higher rack densities are also expected to alter thermal strategies. According to the Uptime Institute’s 2022 Global Data Centre Survey, more than a third of data centre operators say their rack densities have rapidly increased in the past three years, this being especially true among larger enterprise and hyperscale data centres, where nearly half of those operating facilities at 10MW and above reported racks above 20kW and 20 per cent claimed racks higher than 40kW.

This is consistent with the maturity of liquid-cooled server technologies and increasing acceptance and adoption of such technologies. The aforementioned increases in server power consumption are happening as the need to add capacity quickly is growing, challenging operators from all sides. This leaves them little choice but to explore the boundaries of existing facilities by adding computing in tight spaces, increasing rack densities, and creating thermal profiles that require liquid cooling.

Finally, 5G is expected to meet the metaverse at the edge. Omdia, in its 2022 Mobile Subscription and Revenue Forecast, projects nearly half of all mobile subscriptions – more than 5.8 billion – to be 5G by 2027, pushing computing closer and closer to the user. The metaverse is an application in search of an ultra-dense, low-latency computing network. In 2023, these two activities are expected to intersect, with metaverse implementations leveraging 5G networks to enable the ultra-low latency features the application demands.

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