Six Key Steps to a Greener Data Centre

As we’re constantly reminded, COVID has accelerated the digitisation of both work and play. We have seen organisations move almost all parts of their systems to the cloud, relying on data centres to deliver the IT services needed to support this shift. While this shift seems like it’s here to stay, one point that is not often discussed is the rising carbon emissions associated with the data centre industry as it steps up to address this mass digitisation.

 

However, I believe we’re at a tipping point and this is about to change. Governments are now under widespread pressure to ensure that our post-COVID economic recovery is sustainable and that the UK meets its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. With so much digital transformation, it is only right that attention will turn to reducing carbon emissions from the sector and it’s time the industry stepped up to this.

 

At OVHcloud, we have identified six key areas where we need to take action to make this a reality. For organisations that are unsure where or how to start on their data centre carbon reduction journey, these actions can put you on the right path:

 

  1. Target setting

 

It is important to set goals that are both realistic and impactful and for organisations to hold themselves accountable to achieving these goals. Setting specific targets, establishing a clear carbon strategy and identifying key activity areas will help you track your progress and identify tangible actions and workstreams. They could be as simple as increasing the use of renewable energy within the next nine months, or only supporting the implementation of carbon neutral technologies.

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  1. Energy maturity

 

Most data centres have already begun to look at using more renewable sources of energy to reduce their water and carbon consumption. The journey to energy maturity involves balancing increasing financial investment, risk and potential impact on operations against the benefits of renewable energy use. One area to consider is data centre site selection. At OVHcloud, for example, we look for regions that can offer a strong mix of renewables in the utility grid and those further along the journey can look to develop partnerships with organisations that offer high-quality renewables projects at the regional grid level.

 

  1. WEC optimization

 

A traditional view of data centre operations pits service delivery performance against energy

efficiency gains. Today, however, sustainability planning is fast becoming an integral element of data centre design and operation, that can reduce costs and risks associated with water, energy and carbon (WEC). It’s possible to reduce your WEC profile thorugh the use of closed-loop water-cooling technology that brings liquid cooling into the CPU, and free air cooling. Looking further ahead, data centres can also incorporate server metrics into facilities measures to create a more holistic view of the data centre.

 

  1. Circular economy

 

The data centre industry is well-positioned to capitalise on the concept of ‘circular economy’ but to do so it must consider re-using, recycling and upcycling its components. For example, new data centres can be sited in existing industrial facilities and re-use racks and servers to reduce the creation of embedded carbon associated with new builds. LCA (life cycle assessment) is becoming a standardised way of measuring the impact of a product, from its creation, through use, to end-of-life and fortunately most organisations are already recycling the parts that can’t be re-used.

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  1. Improve carbon impact in a full LCA approach using procurement

 

Going forward, companies can continue to become more efficient by also improving their supply chains in a way that capitalises on the whole data centre ecosystem to optimise performance. OVHcloud, for example, will be developing a Sustainability Code of Conduct for suppliers, extending environmental requirements throughout its supply chain. It’s already pushing to sustainable packaging and low-impact shipping within its own operations as a start.

 

  1. Educate customers to amplify green impact

 

While cloud providers ultimately have little direct control over clients’ usage patterns, it is possible to develop energy metrics that deliver the visibility cloud users need to optimise workloads for energy consumption reduction. This is something that OVHcloud is looking into.

 

“Business as usual” is no longer an option for the data centre industry. It’s time for the industry to get its house in order and make an effort to meet EU recommendations of climate neutral datacentres by 2030 in the Green Deal. I sincerely hope that the rest of the industry will follow our lead, if not in committing to carbon neutrality, then at least in working to reduce their carbon footprint.

 

 

Francois Sterin

François has 15 years of experience working on global infrastructure for internet and telecom companies currently at OVHcloud, where one of his priorities is ensuring the business is powered with more climate-friendly sources. In Nov 2019, he was named in Data Economy’s “Climate 50 - The World’s Top Most Influential Climate Leaders In Data Centres And Cloud” who are driving change and the debate around Global Warming, Climate Change, sustainability and renewables across the data centre and cloud sectors. In his current role as Chief Industrial Officer at OVHcloud, he leads the technical infrastructure of OVHcloud from the server assembly lines to the design, construction and operation of the data centres globally. Previously, as a Director of Global Infrastructure, he oversaw Google's data centres portfolio and location strategy in EMEA and Asia, as well as their related energy needs. Prior to that, he spent six years at Google California Headquarters in various positions, in charge of Google rapid expansion of their global backbone network and global data centre footprint.  

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