Schneider Electric: sustainability is a “business imperative"

18 June 2021 | sponsored statement

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Sustainability is growing as an essential component of data centres both in Europe and across the globe. Rob McKernan, SVP of Schneider Electric’s Secure Power division, talks to Capacity about how he sees the sustainable data centre of the future.

“Sustainability is going to be not only good for the planet, but it’s going to be good for business,” says McKernan. “What we’ll see going forward is that data centres will become much greener, much more tending to the environmental needs of the world.”

A green approach has been a central part of Schneider Electric’s strategy for many years, and now it’s becoming a “business imperative” in data centres, says McKernan. That gives pause for thought, considering the expected renewed growth in global data infrastructure in the coming years, the need to upgrade existing locations, and the transformation in architecture to a more distributed, hybrid edge and cloud set-up.

Gartner has predicted that after a 10% fall in data centre spending globally in 2020 due to restricted cashflow during COVID-19, investment will rise again by 6% this year and continue growing year-on-year through 2024. The research firm also forecast that three-quarters of enterprise-generated data would be created and processed outside a traditional, centralised data centre or cloud by 2025.

These changes are certainly reflected in the European market, which McKernan cites as an “interesting playground for leading the way in sustainable data centres”. “The data centre marketplace here in Europe is quite dynamic, and it’s a pretty exciting time with all the building that’s going on in a variety of sizes,” he says. “The data centre of the future, in my opinion, is going to be even more mission-critical.”

Path to the future

As data centre providers both build out facilities and upgrade existing ones, McKernan says that changes in outlook across the business world bring this need to focus on sustainability, alongside the three other pillars he perceives as key: efficiency, adaptiveness and resilience. 

He notes that customers of data centre operators and enterprises have begun demanding even higher environmental standards, as hyperscalers have been setting net-zero targets over the coming five to 10 years. “There has been a fundamental change in talking to customers and partners. Customers and investors in these data centres demand a sustainable approach.”

Many companies with heavy IT requirements in sectors from the banking to semiconductor and automotive industries, both in Europe and globally, are taking an active role in energy management, and seeking to upgrade old, inefficient data centres, says McKernan. The clamour for infrastructure that upholds these values is in line with demands under the European Green Deal to drive towards achieving no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. In response to that need, the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact was unveiled this January – an initiative created between 25 companies and 17 associations in a bid to make the region’s data centres climate-neutral by 2030. Participants include the European Data Centre Association, of which Schneider Electric is a member.

Yet in a recent Schneider Electric survey of more than 800 colocation data centre providers, only 43% of respondents had strategic sustainability initiatives for their infrastructure in place, despite almost all of them having customers seeking contractual commitments to sustainable practices.

And sometimes, says McKernan, smaller on-premise legacy data centres are creating a large amount of wastage, with far less of their power capacity actually consumed – leaving major leeway for upgrading them to make them much more efficient.

This all illustrates significant room for strengthening on sustainability, with Schneider Electric pushing ahead with a variety of initiatives to aid this transition. “Schneider Electric has been a leader in this thinking of how to make your energy more efficient, safe and green,” says McKernan. “We’re really focusing a lot on this in the whole supply chain – how we manufacture our products, how we operate our products and how we bring them to life.”

A green Galaxy

One of the company’s key recent launches was that of its Galaxy VL, the latest addition in its Galaxy line of power products. The unit provides a 200-500kW three-phase uninterruptible power supply and includes the option for long-lasting lithium-ion batteries. It is also highly efficient and compact, with its 0.8-square-metre size freeing up essential data centre space. “It’s really packing a lot of energy into a small space,” says McKernan.

In addition, he cites Galaxy VL’s “Live Swap” feature, allowing power modules to be replaced while being kept online – thus minimising downtime and enabling business continuity. “When you look at this future, it’s about how are you going to be able to continue building a much more efficient data centre using the most efficient products and utilising the least number of resources. I think that’s the mindset we’re all going to have.”

McKernan adds that there is also a need for a real focus on the long term as an integral part of sustainability and efficiency: “You’re thinking not only of the day you build it, but you’re thinking of when it’s 15 or 20 years down the line and you’re going to be decommissioning. How do you have that entire lifecycle being much more efficient?”

To meet the need for more efficient edge infrastructure, Schneider Electric also announced the expansion of its EcoStruxure Micro Data Center C-Series with the 43U in early May. This provides intelligent cooling technology and helps dispose of the need for a purpose-built IT room, with the potential to cut capex by almost half and boost time to market.

Efficiency play

Apart from upgrades and rollouts, data centre providers and their customers are looking at how to manage their overall IT infrastructure more efficiently.

“It’s easy to draw a picture of on-premises IT, but the reality of what that picture looks like when it’s a real enterprise is there’s IT spread out all over the place,” says McKernan. Sometimes, businesses don’t even know all the resources they have, he adds. “That leads to vulnerabilities, waste and inefficiencies.”

In line with this, Schneider Electric has its EcoStruxure platform, which is accessible through products such as Galaxy VL and is geared towards connecting everything in the enterprise. It aids monitoring and management of IT infrastructure, and the collection of data from a variety of locations – from sensors to the cloud – to provide meaningful insights and measurements.

At the end of April, Schneider Electric also launched an Edge Software and Digital Services Program for IT providers, which again provides access to the EcoStruxure platform and aids IT providers in creating managed power services amid the rapid growth in edge computing and increasingly distributed IT services. With these types of initiatives in place, it means that resources can all be tied together in an efficient way, and that sustainability can be managed within that, says McKernan. “It is that holistic sort of strategy to meet the needs of hybrid IT that all companies are going through now,” he says. “You need to have a company strategy that’s bold and actionable.”

Flexible needs

Enterprises are also seeking to use fewer staff, meaning more need for control over resources at a distance. In line with this, Schneider Electric has focused on boosting physical security, tied in with remote software management that provides real-time visibility on what’s happening with equipment.

Such trends towards remote management are required even more in the wake of COVID-19, with people working and studying from home – leading to an increase rather than slowdown in the demand for secure IT.

McKernan says that with these new infrastructure needs, interesting new opportunities are emerging through more IT deployments that comprise, for instance, small rollouts of racks and servers at remote locations with limited staff, such as railway stations and university campuses. “I love seeing some of these new sorts of IT deployments, which are very interesting – things we didn’t really see four or five years ago,” says McKernan.

And he foresees the need for data centre providers to continue being flexible in the future with their deployments, while making sustainability a key part of that. “It’s going to continue to have to be very fluid,” he says. “I think the changing landscape is not going to slow down.”