The importance of designing sustainable data centers

Written By

Casey Moore
Energy and Sustainability Manager

at

Sabey Data Centers

Casey Moore, energy and sustainability manager at Sabey Data Centers considers the sustainability options for data centres.

As data centers become increasingly crucial to our economy and way of life, it is more important than ever that these facilities are operated sustainably. Designing and constructing today’s data centers with sustainability at top of mind will ensure that their critical role in society doesn’t come at the expense of our planet.

Data centers consume an estimated 200 terawatt-hours per year, and this energy footprint will continue to grow as the world becomes more digitised. The data center industry plays an important role by using renewable energy sources and designing, constructing, and operating efficient data centers. Many in the data center sector recognise the impact on the environment and implement sustainable solutions as they realise sustainable data center help mitigate the effects of climate change. Beyond reducing energy consumption, sustainable data centers reduce impacts of other kinds, such as potable water consumption and efficient data centers ultimately save money

As the demand for data centers rises, owners will need to design and operate these facilities with efficiency at top-of-mind to minimise both energy costs and environmental impact. Through eco-friendly design and operations, data centers can reduce their impact on the environment and preserve their bottom line while providing crucial digital infrastructure.

Designing and operating green data centers

In a data center, the top energy user is the IT equipment. There are many well-known ways to operate IT equipment more efficiently. As technology evolves, more and more hardware is designed for efficiency. Selecting Energy Star rated servers is one way to ensure that equipment remains efficient, even at high utilisation. Old hardware can also be swapped out for these new systems, and unused servers can be shut down when not in use.

In addition to efficiently selecting and operating IT equipment, those with information processing needs can also determine how they will fulfil their data center needs. Choosing a data center colocation provider with a track record of operating efficient data centers allows the IT customer to abstract that part of the problem. They don’t need to be an expert on designing and operating efficient data centers.

Second only to the IT load, cooling is an energy-intensive process that is crucial to the day-to-day operations of a data center. Hot-aisle containment, where rows of servers are placed back to back and separated by an aisle that heated air exhausts into, is one technique to optimize cooling. Physical separation of the hot and cold air reduces fan energy and allows for selection of higher supply air temperatures, reducing mechanical cooling requirements. One particularly efficient cooling technique is indirect evaporative cooling, which reduces the reliance on mechanical cooling to save energy.

Reducing energy usage through the efficient design and operation of data centers is a critical first step to positively impacting the planet, but more is possible.

Sustainable energy for data centers

Today, data centers are increasingly looking to reduce their impact on the environment by sourcing energy from clean and renewable sources such as hydro, solar, and wind. There are many legitimate routes a data center owner can take to source renewable energy. One option is to site the data center in a location with a high mix of renewable energy. Data centers are a desirable industry and locating in areas with high renewable energy sends a signal of the importance of such traits. Data center owners may also be able to directly source renewable energy through the utility or through other partners. Data center owners can acquire renewable attributes, through such instruments as virtual power purchase agreements or direct purchase of renewable energy credits.

There are many other technologies on the horizon to reduce climate impacts, such as improved energy storage, green hydrogen, fuel cells, and alternative fuel sources such as renewable natural gas.

Data centers enable information technology that improves our way of life and often reduces our impact on the environment (such as remote work instead of commuting to work). As our reliance on technology grows, our demand for the data center infrastructure that supports it will also. To mitigate the inevitable environmental impact of this growth, data center operators and designers must make sustainability a priority.

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