Data centre growth demands a greater focus on sustainability Marc Garner, VP, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric UK&I
Press Release by Schneider Electric Wed 19 Jan 2022
With the growing awareness of the need to protect the world from catastrophic climate change, participants in all industries are coming under pressure to operate in more sustainable ways. In the case of IT service providers in general, and data centre operators in particular, popular concern is focussing on how the insatiable demands of the digital society for more electronic services are forcing the construction of more and bigger data centres and the amount of power they consume.
In the major European colocation markets of Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Paris (FLAP), for example, some 415MW of additional capacity will come on stream in 2021, according to commercial property firm CBRE, which also expects that demand will stay strong in 2022 and 2023. This is 100MW more capacity than was added in 2019, the last year before Covid-related lockdowns. For the sake of the environment, operators need to ensure that all capacity, new and existing, is built to be efficient, sustainable and as far as possible made up of recyclable products.
Perhaps less visibly to the general public, there is the growth in smaller data centres at the edge of the network, running specialised applications for local customers and often running unattended, from the point of view of onsite supervising IT and maintenance staff. The aggregate power drain from all data centres providing electronic services is of a magnitude to be taken very seriously as society as a whole struggles to harmonise digital lifestyles with sustainability.
The IT industry is aware of the challenge and many vendors and other participants have made commitments to achieving carbon neutrality and more sustainable operations. Vendors such as Schneider Electric have committed to helping their customers save 800m tons of CO2 emissions between 2018 and 2025 and to encourage its 1,000 top suppliers to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 per cent over the same period.
As part of these efforts, Schneider Electric is also operating a Green Premium Services program under which all its products come with detailed information on their regulatory compliance, material content, environmental impact and circularity attributes. Labelling and appropriate product certifications enable users to implement appropriate disposable, and where applicable recyclable procedures to minimise waste and environmental impact. So, armed with all this information, and cognisant of the importance of the issue of sustainability what steps can data centre operators take to boost efficiency and reduce environmental impact?
Resilience is key
Operating efficiently and reliably should be priorities. Downtime not only affects service delivery, and therefore impacts negatively on business, but recovering from service interruptions can be costly and can have negative effects on the environment, necessitating the use, if only temporarily, of temporary power generators, causing unnecessary travel by maintenance personnel and requiring the replacement before time of products. A reliable power backup system based on efficient uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems is therefore essential.
There are several options available when choosing a UPS to match the specific needs of a data centre. Increasingly, these products are modular in construction so that the power and UPS needs can match the exact capacity needed at any one time and still scale up easily as demands increase. Newer batteries made using Lithium-Ion technology have the advantage of longer operational life and therefore need to be replaced at much longer intervals than alternative technologies. Careful disposal is needed at the end of life, but the greater power densities and reduced maintenance requirements make lithium-ion an attractive alternative.
Another key advantage of Lithium-Ion batteries is the greater number of charge/recharge cycles they can endure. This makes them particularly suitable for realising innovative strategies to reduce power reduction such as peak load shaving and microgrids.
In the former case, if the power consumption of a facility approaches a level which will see it exceed limits agreed with the mains provider, which will in turn incur a penalty tariff, excess energy stored in a UPS battery can be used as a temporary power source for the data centre. This not only saves energy bills but also reduces the demands on the mains power. Similarly, micro grids allow neighbouring facilities to share the excess energy stored in UPS batteries to reduce the load on the mains and save on energy bills.
Data driven insights
Both these techniques require constant and accurate monitoring of the status of all assets in a data centre, the power consumption of each and the energy that is available at any given time from the UPS infrastructure. This is made possible by the availability of modern UPS systems equipped with Internet of Things (IoT) technology, comprising network-enabled sensors that constantly report the status and energy levels to a centralised management console.
This, in turn, requires the use of sophisticated management software such as Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools that allow a data centre, or even several data centres, to be monitored and managed by a specialist central management team from behind a single pane of glass. This is especially helpful in the case of remote distributed edge data centres which typically do not have trained maintenance personnel on site.
Fortunately, such tools are readily available and are increasingly delivered via the cloud so that they can be deployed readily to numerous data centres of all sizes and in all locations. This allows smaller unmanned data centres in remote locations to be subjected to the same rigorous management for the purposes of reliability, efficiency and therefore sustainability as the largest data centres with specialist technical support staff on site.
The use of such tools allows central management both to anticipate faults and emergency visits before they occur and to schedule routine maintenance so that site visits can be kept to a minimum.
With the growing availability of more management tools for efficient operation, network enabled assets with long battery life and ever more valuable product label information to assist decision making for timely maintenance and appropriate disposal of hazardous waste, data centres can become increasingly “green” while maintaining reliable digital services, protecting their infrastructure for a more sustainable tomorrow.