The global state of data center sustainability

Review green initiatives in the world of data centers: sustainable designs and practices, what other organizations are doing and where IT falls short.

Following the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, at the end of 2021, it's more important than ever that organizations address sustainability and reduce their carbon footprints. Data centers consume a great deal of energy and resources, and they are one place that many organizations seek to cut back -- with the goal of eventually reaching net-zero carbon emissions.

Understand how data center sustainability improves with the right design and practices, get to know current green IT movements and pitfalls when it comes to going greener, and learn what major organizations are doing to fight climate change.

Sustainability in data center design

Many organizations aim to have net-zero emissions by the year 2050, which requires designing their data centers according to energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Organizations that hope to design or upgrade their data centers for environmental sustainability should consider a few design factors that can get them toward net-zero data center emissions.

Conserve energy by using air containment and liquid cooling. Invest in sustainable computer processing hardware, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems and cooling systems. Implement high-efficiency power and cooling infrastructure, such as transformerless, modular UPSes, higher-voltage equipment or full liquid immersion cooling. If possible, implement fuel cells for on-site energy generation or switch to clean renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

Green computing

Utilize green computing practices to reduce data centers' carbon footprint and improve data center sustainability. Track your base power usage, and forecast future electrical usage. Right-size servers in order to avoid underutilization and energy waste. Carefully monitor the temperature to reduce the load on HVAC systems. Rearrange the data center's layout based on energy consumption and temperature, or replace legacy assets with newer, more energy-efficient ones.

In terms of broader management, consider investing in smart facilities management using AI-powered monitoring tools. Investigate new or upcoming green technologies, and take care to partner with other green organizations.

Current sustainable initiatives in tech

The COP26 conference in October and November 2021 introduced a variety of global initiatives to address climate change and climate risk. As a result, many businesses aim to make sustainability a priority. In 2022, organizations must take a handful of key actions.

First, measure and quantify your Scope 1-3 carbon emissions, which consist of direct emissions from owned and controlled sources; indirect emissions from purchased electricity, heating and cooling; and all other indirect emissions, including transportation. Prioritize reducing energy consumption, and consider factors such as how an organization hosts its data and what type of power source it uses to run its facilities.

Remember that sustainability must remain a present issue at the board level. Avoid siloing it away in one specific department. Ensure that the whole organization remains cognizant of sustainability goals.

COP26 also reported on some of the IT industry's current sustainability failures and pitfalls. IT hardware vendors have previously focused on selling newer energy-efficient equipment rather than recycling, refurbishing and reusing older equipment.

Software vendors have also fallen short of sustainability goals because they often force many customers to upgrade to newer hardware.

What some businesses are doing

Organizations such as Schneider Electric, Advanced, Xero and Bank of America all aim to reduce their carbon footprints and have different methods.

Schneider Electric wants to introduce efficiency by avoiding siloed applications, which emit more carbon, and by implementing a program around technical debt reduction. Advanced has invested in an environmental, social and governance reporting tool that enables its organization to measure its greenhouse gas emissions. Advanced also supports hybrid and flexible working options, which reduce employees' commute emissions. Xero uses Salesforce's Net Zero Cloud -- formerly Sustainability Cloud --to measure, analyze and report its greenhouse gas emission levels. Bank of America utilizes energy reduction, space consolidation and the green utility grid to reduce its data center emissions and has consolidated the number of OSes on its servers through the use of virtualization and private cloud.

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