The era of the sustainable data center

Sustainability in product design is becoming important to organizations. In the age of sustainability in the data center, don't forget about energy efficiency in your messaging.

The era of the sustainable data center has begun. More IT decision-makers are including sustainability and energy efficiency in their key decision criteria for new infrastructure investments, in addition to cost, performance, availability and security. TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group recently conducted research of IT professionals involved in IT product and service purchase decisions about the state of environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives that revealed the following:

  • 93% of organizations incorporated ESG elements into their requests for proposals (RFPs) or requests for information (RFIs).
  • 87% identified that an internal ESG program led to an accelerated replacement time frame for existing IT equipment.

Corporate ESG strategies cover a wide range of topics and business initiatives, and environmental and sustainability requirements tend to be defined early in the planning process. When it comes to assigning responsibility to drive those environmental and sustainability initiatives, IT typically is assigned to the task. Enterprise Strategy Group's research report "The Role of ESG Programs in IT Decision Making" showed that 65% of organizations identified IT as the business function most active in driving ESG initiatives. This response rate was significantly higher than the second most commonly identified function, the executive team, at 37%.

When working with suppliers, IT organizations have begun adding multiple sustainability-related requirements into their RFPs and RFIs, asking for information pertaining to carbon usage in the supply chain, the level of reuse and recycling programs in place, and the energy efficiency of infrastructure components.

While those sustainability-related considerations should be a part of every new infrastructure purchase evaluation, it is important to remember that the industry is still fairly immature in its ability to accurately measure and track such metrics, especially outside their own organizations (e.g., across the supply chain). IT decision-makers should still press for answers, however, given that this pressure will drive the needed improvement in maturity. In the near term, however, they may want to focus mainly on the requirements that infrastructure vendors can accurately measure: energy efficiency and, more specifically, energy efficiency per infrastructure capability -- in other words, power usage per usable capacity at the required performance level.

IT vendors respond to the increasing need for energy efficiency

Every major IT infrastructure provider is, or should be, actively innovating to improve the energy efficiency of their products. Fortunately, a few vendors are already leading the charge to respond to this growing requirement.

For example, earlier this year Pure Storage announced an energy efficiency service-level agreement (SLA) guarantee. According to the announcement, Pure Storage will work with organizations to identify an energy efficiency SLA target based on the maximum amount of actual watts per tebibyte. If Pure Storage's solution fails to meet the guaranteed SLA, then Pure Storage will provide remediation, such as increasing the consolidation of the environment at no additional cost. For increased visibility, Pure Storage has also introduced a sustainability assessment service and an energy savings visualizer tool.

It's likely that your organization has already started adding sustainability requirements to requests from your infrastructure suppliers. If not, now is the time to start.

Introducing this type of energy efficiency guarantee is a bold but necessary move that will improve the industry's ability to measure and compare energy efficiency across solutions and vendors. It is also a move that will likely encourage other players in the industry to adopt and possibly surpass in an effort to compete. Increased competition in energy efficiency will be good for IT buyers and ultimately for the planet.

Pure Storage's motivation, beyond altruism, is to attain a position of strength. Enterprise Strategy Group has already validated that by consolidating traditional storage arrays to a Pure Storage FlashArray, organizations can significantly shrink their storage footprint and lower the cost of power and cooling by 85%.

This validation, however, was done for FlashArray. Pure Storage's more recent release of FlashBlade//E -- which can consolidate massive capacity HDD-based storage environments -- could possibly exceed these measures. In fact, Pure Storage claimed during the product's launch that the FlashBlade//E needs only one-fifth the space and power of HDD-based environments.

It's likely that your organization has already started adding sustainability requirements to requests from your infrastructure suppliers. If not, now is the time to start. Energy efficiency guarantees are just the beginning. As maturity improves across the industry in terms of standardizing other measures of sustainability and carbon impact, I expect additional competitive avenues to emerge. Recognize that responses will vary, especially in areas where measurement protocols are less mature, but also recognize it is the requirements from IT buyers that will drive this market evolution.

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