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Dark data generating CO2 equivalent to that of 80 countries

Ian wood.jpeg

Powering the storage of dark data around the world is pumping 6.4 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year – more carbon dioxide than 80 different countries.

The issue has been highlighted in successive Veritas Global Databerg Reports, which found that, on average, 52% of all data stored worldwide is ‘dark’.

The price tag this attaches to data storage has been well covered – Veritas reported as long ago as 2016 that by last year the cost of storing "dark or redundant, obsolete, or trivial" data would reach £2.2 trillion annually. However, the environmental impact has not been as widely investigated.

Marking Earth Day 2021, Ian Wood (pictured), senior director and head of technology UK&I, at Veritas Technologies, said: "Storing this type of data can consume an enormous amount of energy and, as a result, produce unnecessary carbon dioxide. In fact, 6.4 million tonnes of CO2 is unnecessarily pumped into the atmosphere per year as a result of powering the storage of dark data."

The most quoted outlook is that global data volumes will quadruple to 2025, reaching 175 zettabytes, which at the current rate would generate 91 zettabytes of dark data. Quadruple the associated CO2 emissions and Wood said: "The outlook for our environment is dire unless we change our habits.

As Capacity has reported, renewable projects are underway across the industry pioneered by small and mid-sized operators as well as hyperscalers. However, certain corners of the industry – such as "little tech" – are still seeing emissions increase.

Calling on the industry to "get ahead on the challenge", Phil Brace, the firm's chief sustainability officer and EVP for appliances and software-defined storage, said dark data "is producing more carbon dioxide than 80 different countries do individually".

"We’re predicting huge growth in the amount of data being created by IoT devices, and this is what industry analysts suggest will comprise the lions’ share of the data we’re expecting by 2025. Businesses need to understand this type of data, and the storage policies around it, so that we don’t see emissions spiral," Brace continued.

While there's certainly a call to action for the use of renewable power in data storage Wood said the industry's customers also have a role to play.

“Businesses can start making a big difference by simply taking control of their data, reviewing the storage policies around it and ensuring they’re not housing anything that is no longer needed. Eliminating data waste not only helps strengthen regulatory compliance and reduce cost, it can also help reduce emissions and protect our planet," he said.