Sustainability increasing in importance in data centre sector

Green tech

For companies that own, operate or lease data centers, the sustainability of those facilities is becoming increasingly important in today’s business environment, according to new research from S&P Global.

Within the spectrum of sustainability, however, there are multiple aspects that companies should consider and be prepared to act on. Thus far, much of the focus remains on renewable energy, but according to responses in S&P Global’s ‘Voice of the Enterprise: Data Centers, Sustainability 2022’ survey, as companies neutralise the energy they consume with carbon-free energy sources, factors such as diesel generation and water usage will become the focal points.

As companies dig into the greenhouse gas emissions associated with operating the business, it has become clear for tech-heavy industries that the data centres running their digital infrastructure require some attention. Regardless of company size and whether the company has set sustainability goals, more than half of survey respondents feel that the efficiency and sustainability of their data centres are very important issues.

Summary of findings

The research shows that companies are setting sustainability goals, and confidence is cautiously high that they will meet those goals. Two-thirds of respondents (66 per cent) indicate that the company they work for has set sustainability goals. Company size also plays a role here, with only 43 per cent of companies with 250 employees or less have set sustainability goals, while about 70 per cent of companies with more than 250 employees have done so.

Among respondents who say their company has set sustainability goals, more than half (58 per cent) feel it is very likely they will achieve those goals, while another 39 per cent feel it is somewhat likely. Here, too, company size plays a role, with smaller companies displaying a higher level of confidence. For companies with fewer than 250 employees, 69 per cent feel it is very likely they will meet their sustainability goals, while 51 per cent of their peers who work for companies with greater than 10,000 employees feel the same. Anecdotally, of the less than three per cent who feel it is unlikely they will meet their goals, lack of priority or lack of budget is most often cited as the reason.

Efficiency and sustainability are also top of mind, with renewable energy seen as the path forward. More than half (54 per cent) of the respondents who work for companies that leverage data centres, either owned or leased, feel that the efficiency and sustainability of those data centres are very important to the organisation. Another third (30 per cent) feel they are somewhat important.

Respondents put a slightly higher priority on moving away from diesel generators (13 per cent) than getting power usage effectiveness ratios to 1.2 or below (10 per cent), while 28 per cent of respondents who state their company is building new data centres to improve their carbon footprint say they are doing so by not having diesel generators at the new sites. Low or no water usage is also rising in importance.

Improving carbon footprint is among the reasons organisations plan to open new data centres. Nearly one-third (29 per cent) of the companies surveyed state that they intend to open a new data centre in the near future, while another 16 per cent state they have just recently opened a new facility. When asked about the drivers behind opening those data centres, the top responses are to extend the organisation’s global reach (33 per cent), because the organisation is headquartered in this region (32 per cent), to support partner strategies/initiatives (32 per cent) and to improve the organisation’s carbon footprint (32 per cent).

Enterprise data centre closure is still linked to public cloud migration, with improving carbon footprint also on the list. Of the companies that plan to close data centres in the near future (17 per cent) or that have recently closed data centers (13 per cent), the primary driver for the closures is migration to public cloud services (42 per cent). Furthermore, more than one-third (40 per cent) are closing data centres because IT infrastructure transformation has allowed for consolidation, while 22 per cent state that data centre sites are simply overbuilt, with both perspectives perhaps reflecting an orientation toward energy conservation.

More than one-quarter (27 per cent) are closing data centres because of IT budget reductions. Yet another 17 per cent of respondents state that data centres are being closed to improve the organisation’s carbon footprint. Among companies that reported data centre closures as a means of carbon footprint improvement, many noted that the older data centres were located in areas with carbon-dense energy mixes, that they consumed too much water, or that they were underutilised.

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