Technology is growing and transforming at an exponential rate. Enterprise IT organizations are adopting cloud, hybrid and edge infrastructures and with it, new technologies like IoT and AI are putting never-before-seen demands on data storage, connectivity, and processing power. Technology is changing every day and while this growth promises an exciting future ahead, there is a downside that data centers must be prepared for – and that’s the impact they are having on climate change and the associated consequences. We put together four climate change challenges data centers face as well as opportunities for the industry to make an impact in sustainability.

Global temperatures could rise between 2.5 and 10 degrees by the end of the century. This increase in temperature will cause lasting impact around the world, altering ecosystems and disrupting entire regions of the world. Data centers are not far removed from these global impacts. By failing to plan for the effects of climate change, data centers will quickly find themselves at a disadvantage. Data centers will be affected today and in the future by climate change, so it is important to be prepared.

While the last decade has seen numerous green innovations in the data center, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and the rise of hyperscale computing, these elements are still evolving and growing. Sustainability is no longer seen as a nice-to-have initiative. Rather, it’s becoming necessary to thrive in the marketplace and to gain consumers’ trust and loyalty. 

Prioritize Sustainable Energy Practices

The amount of energy data centers use doubles every four years. They have the fastest-growing carbon footprint of any area in the technology sector. To put that number into perspective, data centers consume 3% of the global electricity supply and account for 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Those numbers place data centers at the same carbon footprint level as the entire airline industry.

More organizations are making sustainable energy practices and reducing their carbon footprints a priority. Reducing waste, implementing cooling system upgrades, optimizing airflow, utilizing modular technologies in design and construction, and deploying low-power servers are all great practices that can be implemented into a data center to make it greener. Green data centers can also look into utilizing Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to promote investments in alternative energy sources. 

Reducing energy usage doesn’t mean compromising power efficiency. Renewable energy is a reliable source of power that helps keep Power Usage Efficiency (PUEs) low. A lower PUE means that power is being used more efficiently which ultimately translates to lower operating costs. As of 2018, Google touts an average PUE of 1.12 across all their data centers running on 100% renewable energy. For reference, a PUE of 1 is considered perfect.

A data center in Norway, DigiPlex, has pledged to use the waste heat from its facility to warm 5,000 apartments in the city. The company signed an agreement with a local district heating supplier to redistribute the heat generated by its data center, which is also renewably powered. This is a great example of the industry taking proactive steps for sustainable energy.

Plan for Natural Disasters and Data Recovery

As weather patterns, sea levels and temperatures change, data centers must consider its geographic locations. More natural disasters mean more outages and data loss. It is crucial for data centers to develop a comprehensive data center disaster recovery plan that covers creating redundancies to allow the data center to run on backup power. Regular maintenance should also be part of the process to ensure the facility is always running at peak efficiency.

Putting resources back into the data center itself should also be considered. With the increase in disasters, there is the potential for physical damage to the building itself. Depending on location, thought into bolstering the data center facility should also be a priority.

Invest In More Efficient Cooling 

40% of the total energy that data centers consume goes to cooling equipment. While most facilities utilize traditional HVAC systems, there have been significant advances in infrastructure management and AI to assist in power utilization and reducing energy costs. Efficient cooling systems for large data centers is essential for reducing operating costs.

The increase in global temperature may cause more facilities to relocate or build new facilities in cooler climates. Data centers in colder climates can utilize sophisticated HVAC technology that uses the air and water to cool its systems. Expansion into cooler regions may be a future growth opportunity for data centers.

Consider The Importance Of AI

As companies look for more efficient ways of operating to reduce power consumption and mitigate climate risks, it opens the door to using predictive analytics, machine learning and AI for guidance. These types of programs make advanced energy-saving measures a reality. They will help organizations and governments manage the human impacts of climate change more effectively. AI can monitor building meters, UPSs, floor PDUs, RPPs, intelligent rack PDUs, and environmental sensors. It then consolidates that information into actionable reports, which allows the facility to save power and money, calculate PUE, and drive green data center and sustainability initiatives.

Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning have been proven to enhance energy efficiency in the data center. Google is using an AI-powered recommendation system to improve the energy efficiency of its already highly-optimized data centers and reduce its cooling bill by 40%. Other facilities will soon follow its example.

As more major companies like Apple and Google continue promoting the importance of green data centers and more consumers become environmentally-conscious, every organization will need to develop its own plan for energy sustainability. Facilities that fail to do so will find it difficult to compete in the marketplace unless they take the appropriate steps and begin preparing now.

However, the growth of hyperscale data center construction is a significant opportunity for the industry to lead with energy-efficient design from inception. It allows the facilities to utilize the latest in building technology and can influence the supply chain for the actual sourcing of materials for these buildings. Data centers can ensure that the facility is operated, maintained, repaired and refurbished that allows the facility to use materials in a smarter, cleaner way.