The drive toward the zero carbon digital infrastructure industry is now underway with all the seriousness of purpose that hark back to the founding of the The Green Grid (TGG) in early 2007, and the advent of the TGG Power Utilization Effectiveness. PUE is a now long-established standard metric for determining data center power and cooling infrastructure performance.
At that time of TGG’s founding, there was the real fear that the projected meteoric growth in data center server computing, in the worst-case, could bring down the power grid in certain regions of the US with heavy concentrations of data centers in a very short period of time. And, at best, would reveal the extraordinary power waste and attendant costs associated with the highly inefficient data center infrastructure and operations of the day.
(Author’s Note: As an odd happenstance, after a number of years of PUE rations trending down, the Uptime Institute’s Executive Director of Research, Andy Lawrence, reports that the period of increasing efficiency has, for the moment, taken a breather.)
Saved by the Recession?
The extreme projections of data center power apocalypse didn’t materialize for several reasons, we believe.
First, the Great Recession hit, beginning at the tag end of 2007 and continuing well into mid-year 2009. That brought both server sales and new data center builds to a screeching halt. Second, when the economy recovered, virtualization had matured and taken root as a solution.
Likewise, Intel, primarily among chipmakers, had remarkably improved both performance and power efficiency.
Finally, data center engineering, particular cooling, plus data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software tools, gave operators ways to improve both data center uptime availability as well as significant operational cost benefits.
While in its truly modern computing context, cloud computing dates to 2006 (even well before that, in actuality), it didn’t really begin to show significant promise until the 2013 time frame, fed by fiber optic cable and modern networking. But the growth trajectory has been steep; by the close of 2020, it will have crossed $241B in global market revenues, according to an article in CIO, citing a 2019 year-end Forrester Research report.
Now It’s Carbon
The driver for the most recent hot attention on data centers, the Internet and cloud infrastructure is the impact of carbon emissions in the atmosphere in its contribution to accelerating climate change. The ICT and data center industry currently consumes over two percent of the world’s electric power.
The explosive rate of growth in mobile and wireless devices, the IoT, and the plethora of technologies that underpin the digital transformation of the global economy, could see that rise to as high as eight percent by 2030, according to Swedish researcher Anders Andrea, working on behalf of Huawei.
Roger Strukhoff, principal analyst for the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, investigating on behalf of the SmartNations Foundation, is more modest in his global projections at more like six-plus percent, that he suggests will be the result of normal technology advance in development.
The RE100 and the Digital Infrastructure Industry
As a response to climate change threat from carbon emissions, the RE100, is a global corporate listing of, now, 221 companies, primarily leading and influential brands, which pledge themselves to 100 percent renewable power in all of their operations by a specified year, and by not later than by 2050. Most of them have set targets that pull their promises back in to dates much earlier
RE100 is managed by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, an organization that runs environmental impact disclosure systems and services. To be a partner company, beyond making the 100-percent pledge, companies are required to disclose their power use and source data to The Climate Group, which, with CDP, monitors, verifies and reports on progress.
While virtually all of these companies have major ICT, internet and data center operations, for about 10 percent of them, the value chain of data centers, telecom networks, and cloud overall represent the primary business-of-the-business in varying ways.
One of the most recent data center companies to join RE100 was QTS. The Overland Park, Kansas-headquartered REIT that joined in July, 2019 with a target for 100 percent of its electric power being procured from renewable sources by 2025.
QTS joins other other major hyperscale cloud, telecom network and colocation data center companies who are already RE100 partner companies, including: Equinix, Iron Mountain, Facebook, AT&T, BT, Digital Realty, Google, Microsoft, Rackspace, Salesforce, SAP, Switch, Telefonica, Verizon, VMWare, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, eBay, and T-Mobile.
RE100 is a renewable power demand-side initiative to stimulate an increase in the supply of renewable energy available in the market in the shortest time-span possible.
Part of the RE100 effort is to help make the business cast for increasing renewables investment and development by utilities, energy marketers and policymakers. The Climate Group and CDP member organizations of the We Mean Business coalition for accelerating the transition to the zero-carbon economy.
Sustainability and the drive down to carbon zero is now a clear mandate for the digital infrastructure industry. For both its business life, and the slowing of climate change.