August 23, 2021

With environmental regulations tightening and the demand for green solutions growing every year, data centres need to start building sustainability into everything they do.

Becoming greener, using resources more efficiently, and building sustainable models for the future are all strategically critical for data centres. Data centres burn through resources at a tremendous rate – and demand for the computing power they provide is growing exponentially.

2021 could be the greenest year yet for data centres as factoring sustainability into their strategies becomes fundamental to data centre operations and PR.


The Problems

Energy consumption

A 2020 study found that data centres use 1% of the energy used worldwide. This percentage is bound to grow along with demand unless efforts are made to reduce it.

But the good news is that the study found data centres’ energy usage hasn’t grown as fast as their workloads, which have increased 6x in the last decade. Advances in energy conservation and processing efficiency are already slowing the rise.


Water usage

Data centres use 600bn litres of water a year in the US alone, both for generating electricity and for cooling the hardware. The availability of water is critical to manage climate change.


Greenhouse emissions

Data centres produce 2% of greenhouse gas emissions, almost as much as the airline industry. Both regulators and B2B consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about this.


The Solutions

Many of the biggest data centre providers are already creating and acting on plans to start solving these problems in 2021. Here are some of their strategies:


Reducing data storage

People currently produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day, and that’s expected to grow to 463 exabytes a day by 2025. To manage this skyrocketing demand without using more energy, data centres are exploring techniques like thin provisioning, deduplication and data compression. Data compression in particular is advancing rapidly.

Colocation and cloud

When companies outsource data from their own private data centres to a third-party data centre, through either colocation or the cloud, the data centre can use this influx of data to make economies of scale to maximise processing and minimise resource consumption and waste.


Liquid cooling

Air cooling consumes a huge amount of resources. Using it to keep all the equipment and servers in a data centre functioning is highly inefficient. Because liquid conducts heat better than air, it can do the job on significantly less power and could cut the total power cost of data centre cooling by as much as 20-30%.

Facebook claims their proprietary liquid cooling system, StatePoint, can cut cooling costs by 20% in hot climates and as much as 90% in cooler climates.


Location and design

Data centres can be deliberately built in colder locations to keep cooling costs down; this is one example of using location to increase efficiency. Building design can help too; new data centres are being designed with efficiency in mind.


Backup generators

Currently, backup generators at major data centers use diesel, but Google and other companies are looking at using lithium-ion batteries as a carbon-free alternative.