Global CO2 emissions dropped by 7% in 2020. You may ask is that a typo? I thought we were on an unavoidable path. The footnote: due to mandated remote work and limited travel as Covid-19 ripped through the world and caused a global health crisis, we had one silver lining in the sustainability field. Unfortunately, it was short lived. CO2 is rising again. However, for the first time, the world saw that sustainable practices actually could make a significant difference.
The industry no one is talking about: the omnipresent digital footprint. In true “Don’t Pay Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain” fashion, the substantial energy consumed by the always on, big data, artificial intelligence, customized ads, nonstop phone usage, is far more impactful than anyone is talking about.
For the longest time, sustainable practices were reduced to only affecting some industries. I’m sure that when you think of revolutionizing industries, images of electric cars or goods in eco-packages comes to mind. You might even picture organic fruit or free-range eggs. You’d be right, the automotive, consumer goods, and agricultural industries have a long-standing association with unsustainable practices and have been in the spotlight for new innovative green solutions.
New ideas and sustainable growth are exciting and make for thrilling news headlines. However, we are missing the major red flag: Energy Consumption. While the Cloud isn’t a tangible item that you can hold, see, or smell, it still exists, and it silently consumes more and more energy to keep up with our demands.
With 71% of Americans working remotely in 2020, it is safe to assume that you likely spent the last few years navigating zoom calls and Microsoft 365 collaborative documents (or possibly just perusing Facebook or Netflix from the comfort of your home). 2020 saw global internet traffic surge by 40% and Data Center electricity use accounts to around 1% of global electricity demand according to the IEA in November of 2021. To put this in perspective, the entire country of Turkey used around 0.01% of the global energy use in the year of 2012.
With public outcry for sustainable practices, some of the largest Data Centers released promises to do better. Facebook became one of the first to commit to transitioning to entirely renewable energy and Google wants to be carbon-free by 2030. I can continue to list countless corporate policies surrounding renewable energy and sustainable practices, but the Atlantic summarized it best: “The decision to use renewable energy is as much a business calculation as it is a public-relations one.” If the public and customers demand transparency for sustainable practices, data centers will follow suit and implement the measures needed to keep public opinion positive.
2022 and Beyond
What should the industry expect in 2022 for sustainable Data Center practices? 2022 will be the year to reduce excessive energy expenditures. How? Two of the fastest growing solutions are improved cooling systems and new updated servers.
As one could imagine, Data Centers run hot, and I don’t say that lightly, as the average temperature inside the aisles ranges from 90 degrees to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The recommended temperature should stay below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I hope you see the issue at hand.
Microsoft is taking center stage in implementing immersion-cooling systems. In April of 2021, a single rack of 48 servers were immersed in coolant fluid at the Data Center location in Quincey, Washington. The coolant fluid was specifically engineered to be harmless to technology and to boil at 122 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 90 degrees lower than water. This allows for heat from the servers to literally evaporate away from the racks. The evaporated coolant rises until it hits a cooled condenser, which lowers the temperature causing the coolant to liquify and rain onto the immersed servers. This creates a closed system that effectively cools servers. Microsoft estimates that the implementation of immersion-cooled servers will reduce energy consumption by 5% to 15%.
There was a huge push to further develop and implement immersion-cooling systems in data centers around 2012 – 2015. Despite immersion-cooling being a hot-topic in the Data Center industry, no real implementations were made to fully incorporate this method into the traditional Data Center. Instead, smaller projects at companies like Facebook, Intel, and 3M were used to test the effectiveness of the cooling method around 2012. However, none decided to take the method to full scale and fully convert to using the immersion-cooling method.
Energy Efficient Servers
Energy Efficient. This term follows around technology of all kinds. When “Energy Efficient” is typed into Google, the autofill options include Cars, Space Heaters, Washers & Dryers, Windows, Light Bulbs, Air Conditioning, Electronics, etc… We can go on and on with energy efficient options. Replacing old servers with new, energy efficient servers is a viable option to reduce energy consumption.
This sounds like a cop-out answer. Replacing old servers with new energy efficient ones will create excess waste. From a sustainability standpoint, using a device for it’s full life, whether it be a cell phone, laptop, or desktop computer, is always a more ecofriendly option. The device already exists. It should be used. However, in the data center industry the servers need to be the newest and most energy efficient to process and store the ever increasing data. With the increase in storage needed, not only will we see more servers being replaced, but we also expect to see an expansion in the number of servers needed.
High Efficiency servers will not only increase the efficiency of the data center, but if the data center follows the GHG Protocol, replacing the servers will help to eliminate scope 1 and scope 2 carbon emissions. Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned facilities and vehicles. Scope 2 covers indirect upstream actives (purchased electricity, leased assets, waste generated, etc…). Regardless of which sustainability initiative you’re bound to, reducing energy consumption in Data Centers will never be a bad thought.
Out With the Old, In With The New
The thrill of opening up a new (or new to you) laptop for the first time never gets old. You plug it in, set up your login and password and you’re good to go! If only data center decommissioning was as simple to navigate.
When it comes to the legality of data loss and moving multi-million-dollar servers, it is best to hire a company that specializes in data center decommissioning. No brainer, right? What does this have to do with sustainability? If you choose a company that securely erases the data and remarkets the servers to give a secondary life, then you will not only be giving back to the community and regaining monetary value on the devices, but also decreasing your Scope 3 emissions.
The GHG Protocol outlines Scope 3 as indirect activity that is not owned or controlled by the reporting company. The GHG Protocol does not require quantifying Scope 3, however it is an optional step that more and more companies will begin to partake in as they reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions.
If you don’t have a sustainability initiative in place now, expect to have one very soon. 2022 will be the year to take a deep look into sustainable data center practices. We predict that more data centers will test immersion-cooled servers to prevent server overheating in a similar fashion to Microsoft’s pilot program. We have yet to see an entire data center use immersion-cooling, but it is now in the realm of possibility. As immersion-cooling systems are being tested and further developed, energy-efficient servers are continuing to advance with each new model sold. We expect to see data centers purchasing the newest energy-efficient models to keep up with the data storage demands.
When purchasing new servers and updating devices, we ask that you consider what happens to your devices after they are retired. If your data center can’t reuse them, then having a qualified ITAD provider eliminate the data and remarket them is the next best option for the environment and your wallet.
Contact DMD Systems HERE to learn how DMD can securely remarket servers and other IT Assets today.