Green data centres: the key to driving sustainable strategies

As we become more environmentally conscious as a society, it is of paramount importance that we push for more sustainable business practices. By Jack Bedell-Pearce, CEO & Co-Founder at 4D Data Centres.

It’s not easy being green

For the average individual, being more sustainable may amount to taking on more eco-friendly habits, such as recycling and reducing water consumption, or investing in electric or hybrid vehicles. It’s all about the small adjustments that will amount to bigger results in the long run.

For businesses and more specifically larger corporate entities, it’s a more challenging and decidedly nonlinear task. In recent years, there’s been noticeable public and shareholder pressure on corporations to prove they’re taking the necessary steps towards tackling climate change, mainly by publicly setting goals on how they plan to reduce their carbon footprint.

One good example is the IT industry, which is actively seeking ways to minimise electrical power generation from fossil fuels, as well as improve waste management and water conservation. However, IT also happens to be a sector that is in constant expansion, predominantly due to our increasing reliance on digital tools and platforms, which means that reducing energy consumption presents something of a conundrum, especially when it comes to data centres.

The role that data centres have to play

For the data centre industry, which is single-handedly responsible for at least 1% of global energy consumption, sustainability takes on a more intense and innovative path. Based on the sheer size and scope of its business, data centres, like enterprises, have an obligation to implement and promote more sustainable choices and solutions.

If we think of these hubs as the epicentre of connectivity, data storage and processing, as well as a variety of business-critical applications, it is only natural to believe that data storage and internet use will continue to increase in the years ahead.

This does mean however that there is an expectation to keep energy consumption at sustainable levels using green technology in data centres. After all, we’re growing ever more dependent on the kind of technology that’s driving innovation, such as 5G, IoT and machine learning, all of which require data centres to operate.

It could even be argued that data centres have an ethical responsibility to be champions of change, and therefore take on the crucial role of implementing measures that minimise the impact that data storing is having on our ecosystem. Some businesses are already making pledges to reduce environmental footprint and invest in more sustainable energy solutions as part of their long-term green strategy. But what can be done to drive change in this space?

What can data centres do to effect change?

There are many steps being taken to address the energy usage of data centres, but this process will need to be accelerated if consumption is to be kept to a minimum, especially when considering that data usage increased by 47% just in the first quarter of 2020, during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Data compression is one example, which allows for far greater levels of efficiency especially when incorporating advancements in cloud technology. The process involves the reduction of a file’s size by re-encoding the file data to use fewer bits of storage when compared to the original file.

The main advantage of data compression is that a compressed file requires less time for transfer and consumes less network bandwidth. By diminishing file size, data transmission time and communication bandwidth, less storage capacity is required, which results in decreased energy consumption, increased productivity, as well as significant cost savings.

Immersion cooling, on the other hand, represents a more practical measure for addressing challenges around energy inefficiency. The process sees computer components or even full servers being immersed in a dielectric liquid that enables higher heat transfer performance than air.

This solution was recently embraced by 4D, which installed a highly energy efficient “pod” at its Gatwick site that uses immersion cooling technology. The “pod” uses a biodegradable dielectric fluid – that has half the density of water – and heat exchangers to cool down IT equipment. The fluid is kept cool by using intercoolers and water, via an internal heat exchanger that extracts heat from the fluid and redistributes it into chill water, which is subsequently pumped away and cooled down again in 4D’s adiabatic cooling towers, a similar process is used in the automotive industry.

Another way data centres can be more sustainable is by harnessing renewable energy sources. With electricity being the primary source for running daily operations, a single data centre’s environmental impact will be largely determined by where it gets its electricity from. This means that, depending on their resources and location, there is scope for data centres to implement a set-up that relies more on environmentally energy sources, such as wind, solar or even tidal.

Next steps

Data centres have a real opportunity to drive change by embracing sustainability. Committing to a green agenda is obviously a step in the right direction for any organisation but, to become a truly sustainable company, business owners need to ensure energy efficiency is at the heart of every aspect of how a data centre is run.

By sourcing the most sustainable materials and technologies for designing and maintaining these energy-intensive hubs, business owners are able to run their data centres in a smart and clean way, ensuring that their impact on the environment is minimised as data consumption continues to thrive.

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