As the world seeks to urgently reduce its carbon footprint, it is becoming increasingly clear that data centres have a significant role to play. After all, within the EU alone, data centres accounted for 2.7% of electricity demand in 2018 and demand is forecast to reach 3.21% by 2030. This demand will be exacerbated by global data centre capital expenditure that is expected to top $377 billion by 2026. As the world becomes increasingly virtualised, making data centres greener is therefore a crucial sustainability imperative.
However, adopting more sustainable data centres is not only ethical – it is also economical. Factors including war in Ukraine and depleted natural gas storage due to a cold winter in 2021 have driven wholesale gas prices to record highs. The resulting energy crisis means that businesses of all sizes must maintain a laser-like focus on energy efficiency in order to control costs.
Already, the effect of the energy price rises on data centre operators has been disastrous. In one survey of data centre professionals based in the UK and Ireland, more than 60% of respondents said that their electricity bills had increased by up to 40% over the past three years. Three percent reported price increases of more than 50%.
For some companies, the increase in price has been unsustainable. Sungard UK, a colocation and managed cloud services provider, was forced into administration. The company blamed the energy crisis and landlords declining to reduce rent costs.
For many data centre operators there are two options: pass on increasing energy costs to customers or seek data centre efficiencies to control cost. Clearly, the latter approach brings with it a significant commercial benefit as customers will likely switch to providers with lower costs.
Given these drivers for energy efficiency, data centre operators are innovating with a new generation of green, energy efficient technologies. This market is forecast to grow significantly by 2032. The benefits extend well beyond cost. Notably, enterprise customers can leverage the technology to reduce their own Scope 3 emissions (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions stemming from a company’s value chain).
Dell Technologies supports a wide range of approaches to make their customers’ data centres more energy efficient. Take data centre cooling systems as a case in point. Dell enables data centres to operate with outside air cooling even in 45°C temperatures. The company also leverages direct-contact liquid cooling (DCLC) with water that doesn’t need to be chilled.
In addition to making the data centres themselves more efficient, Dell Technologies provides a broad range of tools that can help IT professionals assess their current operations and uncover new ways to lower their environmental impact while reducing costs. These tools include the Dell Enterprise Infrastructure Planning Tool, which helps IT professionals plan and fine tune their computer and infrastructure equipment for maximum efficiency.
The impact of virtualisation
VMware is also working on making data centres more energy efficient – indeed, it is central to the company’s work. By helping companies virtualise and consolidate workloads, VMware enables savings in data centre power consumption. According to the company’s 2021 ESG report, customers using its solutions have avoided 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions since 2003.
The company is now looking to empower its customers to understand energy efficiency and carbon emissions reductions through virtualisation. It provides sustainability dashboards that businesses can use to map where else they can optimise their data centre performance.
Efficiency at the nexus of technology and insights
There are two key pillars needed to make data centres more energy efficient and sustainable. Innovations in hardware and software will continue to reduce the costs associated with running and cooling data centres. What’s more, using renewable energy will also help from a sustainability perspective. Over the longer term, if the costs associated with renewables fall, renewable power sources should help with energy costs too.
The second pillar is around empowering IT professionals and managed data centre providers with the tools they need to better understand the real-time performance of data centres and ensure that they are optimised accordingly.
When it comes to the digitalisation and the uptake of cloud computing, the genie is well and truly out the bottle. Demand for data storage and processing will only increase. Fortunately, companies like Dell and VMware show that this can be done sustainably, both from a business and an environmental perspective.