Balancing sustainability and resiliency

Balancing sustainability and resiliency

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As connectivity and internet demands continue to grow, what actions can be taken to slow the effects of carbon emissions, and how can end users and operators play their part in tackling the climate challenge? Rob McKernan, Schneider Electric's SVP secure power Europe region, explains.

According to Gartner, end-user spending on global data centre infrastructure is projected to reach $200 billion in 2021, an increase of 6% from 2020, and the market is expected to grow year-over-year through 2024. CBRE predicts a mammoth 400MW of capacity to come online in 2021, and much of the market growth has been dominated by the hyperscale and colocation communities, many of which have helped to disrupt, innovate and energise the sector over the last decade.

Many of these big tech organisations also have a reputation for transforming facility designs to meet ambitious net zero targets. But as demands continue to grow, what action can organisations within industry take to slow the effects of carbon emissions, and how can end users and operators play their part in tackling the climate challenge? 

Transforming the industry

In a recent survey of more than 800 colocation data centre operators conducted by Schneider Electric and 451 Research, only 43% of operators were found to have a strategic sustainability programme in place to comprehensively improve the way they design, build and operate their infrastructure. Conversely, 97% of providers’ customers were asking for contractual sustainability commitments — stating a clear, present and fundamental need for change. 

The research also found that 50% of respondents believe that customer requirements are among the top drivers for sustainability, with a further 44% of respondents citing efficiency and sustainable operations. What’s more pressing is that with greater awareness of the impacts of data centres on the environment, only 55% of providers surveyed were currently taking some action — but it’s neither strategic nor comprehensive, leaving a clear gap between customer expectations and providers’ commitments.

So, as sustainability and efficiency become ever more important factors in decision-making, what are the key considerations for operators looking to balance sustainable operations and resiliency?

Creating sustainable and resilient data centres

Susanna Kass, data centre advisor to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, recently stated that: “Net zero data centres are the next generation of sustainable data centres, forming the basis of clean energy infrastructure that is resilient, sustainable, and safe."

However, this presents a new conundrum for owners and operators, as historically, to ensure greater resilience, the typical course of action was to increase redundancy, achieving greater reliability at the cost of efficiency. Now, with digital dependence increasing by the second, finding a balance between resilient power and a mechanism to drive sustainability is not an easy feat.

To find equilibrium between sustainable and resilient digital infrastructure, the industry must embrace a more holistic approach to its deployment strategies. One where merely speaking about how it can drive sustainability through technological advancement, or the provision of renewable power, is not enough; instead, real and tangible action is needed.

At Schneider Electric, we believe the sector can address this challenge to find balance between sustainable operations and resiliency by building a strategy around four key pillars. As such, today’s data centres must be resilient, adaptable, sustainable and efficient.

This includes taking action to meet business and sustainability objectives without compromise. Here operators can drive operational efficiency by analysing the key learnings from previous deployments, using pre-tested data centre designs to optimise cost, speed and efficiency to increase return on investment.

By taking a forward-thinking approach and embracing adaptive and future-ready designs, we can accommodate new technologies that support the growing demand for sustainability and efficiency, while helping reduce vulnerabilities and downtime.

Furthermore, by embracing sustainable practices from the outset, maximising both the use of renewables and clean energy within resource-efficient data centre designs, data centre decision-makers can take a more integrated approach to their operations; one where data-driven insights from open and vendor-agnostic software can truly help them to drive efficiency, both now and in the future.

Next-generation data centre infrastructure management software plays a crucial role, offering predictive analytics, enhanced cybersecurity and automated remote management capabilities that meet today’s needs for resiliency.

As we look forward, digitalisation shows no sign of slowing, so our sector must take action now to reduce its carbon impact. Finding a balance between data centre sustainability and resiliency is a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. The answer lies in a holistic plan of action.

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