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DCW Frankfurt 2019: Conspicuous cloud consumption in the digital era

Thu 3 Oct 2019 | Umaima Haider

New technologies and emerging paradigms are causing data centre energy consumption to rise. But how much energy is wasted? Dr Umaima Haider, Data Centre World Frankfurt speaker and researcher at the EC Research Lab, discusses the rise of the wasteful data centre and the latest research into data centre sustainability

With the proliferation of 5G, AI, Big Data, IoT and social media, all of which reside in the cloud, there is an ever-increasing demand for energy in data centres.

Take popular consumer data storage platforms, which for the majority of society constitute the cloud. At the Data Centre Re-transformation Conference held last month in Manchester, Uptime Institute revealed it requires 666GWh/year on average to store a selfie on the cloud (assuming the photo is 2.5MB and 6.5kWh/GB is required for annual storage, and given that on average each of the UK’s 41M cloud users store 1000 photos per year).

How much of this resource is used and how much goes to waste? According to Uptime Institute, 60-70 percent of these photos are not used after they are captured, translating to a waste of around 400GWh/year. When viewed in this light, the majority of consumer photos sitting in the data centre resemble litter clogging up digital infrastructure. The data centre lights up our photos, even when our eyes are elsewhere.

In real terms, the energy wasted is equivalent to that consumed by around 100,000 European households every year. When we consider what else could be powered with this amount of energy the problem becomes impossible to ignore. In the healthcare sector, the same amount of energy could power around 1M Neonatal ventilators (the intensive care equipment that provides ventilatory support to preterm and critically ill infants) per year.

The situation calls for many responses and encompasses many stakeholders. Issues of energy efficiency permanently occupy the minds of data centre operators, but for consumers it’s an afterthought. We need to raise awareness in our society by making cloud users aware of the environmental impact of conspicuous consumption.

Join Umaima at DCW Frankfurt, 13-14 November, Messe Frankfurt

Digital era – what impact does it have on our data centers?
14 Nov 2019. 10:30 – 10:55
Energy Efficiency, Cost Management and DCIM Theater

The problem is analogous to that facing the environment on a broader level. Like soil, water or oil, users should not treat cloud storage as an endless resource for them to consume, but a finite one that must be used responsibly. You could probably count on one hand the number of citizens who delete photo backups for anything other than financial reasons. Periodically deleting useless photos needs to become as engrained into consumer behaviour as recycling supermarket bags.

Enterprise Computing (EC) Research Lab

More research needs to be conducted about the impact of digitalisation on data centre energy consumption. The Enterprise Computing (EC) Research Lab, part of the School of Architecture, Computing and Engineering at the University of East London, is a leading research group focusing on the scalability and sustainability of enterprise systems. Our team investigates the challenges and opportunities in relation to the sustainability of today’s large-scale cloud and data centre environments.

We have documented existing industry research and collaborated on related projects. According to the PEDCA project, the energy consumption of data centres in Europe was estimated to be just over 103 TWh/year in 2014. Consumption was estimated to be 130 TWh/year in 2017 by EURECA — an increase of 25 percent in three years.

Throughout the EURECA project, our group was instrumental in designing a number of innovative engagement methodologies using state-of-the-art models and tools, later used to support the consolidation, new build and retrofitting of data centre projects in EU member states.

Based on pilots involving 337 data centres, our contributions helped produce savings of over 131 GWh/year of primary energy (that’s 52.5 GWh/year of end-use energy). This equates to yearly savings of 27.83 thousand tCO2 per year and €7.159M electricity costs – all achieved from pilots.

EURECA has influenced various initiatives related to policy, including the EU Green Public Procurement Criteria for Data Centres, the Ecodesign legislation for servers and data storage products (GROW Lot 9), the Environmental Management Audit Scheme – Best Environmental Management Practice on Telecommunications & ICT Services Sectors (EMAS), and Article 6 (otherwise known as the Energy Efficiency Directive).

The project has also contributed to several standards, including the EN50600 series on data centres and EURECA team members. It also plays an active role in developing the EU Code of Conduct for data centre energy efficiency. The success of the project has been celebrated by the EU itself, who in feedback evaluating the project stated that it had ‘delivered exceptional results with significant immediate or potential impact.’

As part of the EURECA project, a vendor-neutral open market directory was established for the European data centre market, which we host. This directory currently lists over 250 data centre products and services available to the European market. If your business provides data centre related products and/or services to the European market (irrespective of company size), we encourage you to list your offerings here, free of charge.

If you would like to learn more about the innovative models and tools the EC Lab have developed, don’t miss Umaima’s upcoming session at DCW Frankfurt on 14th November 2019 discussing the impact of the digital era on data centre energy consumption. On the same day, Umaima is also taking part in DCW’s talent & skills panel.

Experts featured:

Umaima Haider

Research Fellow
University of East London


environment sustainability
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