Will 2020 be the year of data shame?
2019 saw Greta Thunberg as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and the high profile protests of Extinction Rebellion and many other activist groups around the world. Climate change is now recognised as Climate Crisis, and all businesses must put sustainability at the heart of their operations. I think in 2020 we will see this movement really hit the data center.
To date the IT industry in general, and data centres in particular, have escaped the intense scrutiny which other industries have endured. But it is inevitable that activists, consumers and governments will turn the spotlight on data centers – already thought to consume between 2 and 4% of the world’s electricity, with predictions that it could soon be as much as 10%. Just look at how "flygskam" or "flight shame" has gathered momentum in the airline industry. How long before we see our own “dataskam” or data shaming?
Technology and technology companies are doubtless leading the charge to a more sustainable future. Communications technology, advanced manufacturing and moves towards electric vehicles are all innovations which have a positive impact on the environment. But we also have to recognise that the digitalisation of economies and societies does not come without an environmental cost.
The industry is responding. DigiPlex has been designing and building sustainable data centers for twenty-years – but is now joined by a host of new entrants, and old competitors, all claiming to be sustainable. But this cannot be just a PR campaign; it must go to the heart of how decisions are made about how and where data is hosted.
How green is green?
Many operators are claiming 100% ‘green’ energy to power their data centres, and still more have made commitments to move to 100% renewable energy supplies. The trouble is it is notoriously difficult in most cases to discover the provenance of energy supplies. True 100% renewable and sustainable energy must come from a source that uses naturally replenished ‘fuel’ that has minimal impact on the environment. The best examples are wind or solar power, and hydroelectricity generated by the flow of water across turbines.
DigiPlex can certify that all of our energy consumed in Norway and Sweden is attributed to one of two power stations in Norway. Holen II and Holen III power stations are both hydroelectric generators fed by high lakes. Holen II uses a waterfall of 316 meters from Vatnedal lake and Holen III has a fall of 651 meters from Greater Ure lake. Annually, these plants produce 888 GWh of electricity.
Other players may use ‘100% Green’ tariffs, but these do not always mean using 100% green energy. Many providers offset consumption of brown or dirty electricity, produced using coal or gas-powered generators, by purchasing Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) certificates. These are awarded to those producing renewable energy but can be sold on separately to the energy itself. In theory this does increase the proportion of renewable energy used overall, but in practice it is difficult for many to prove the energy they are using is really renewable.
Using less – step 1
However green your supply, using less energy is more sustainable. As specialists with long experience in the sector, we build our facilities to be as efficient as possible. We have some advantages in our climate. Cool wet air helps us minimise the need for environmentally costly cooling. Our data centres consume less power to deliver the same compute or data storage capacity because less is lost to the ‘overhead’ of cooling and related services. Not only does this increase sustainability but reduces cost for our customers. DigiPlex innovations including our Air-to-Air evaporative cooling technology mean that our facilities can out-perform even other cold-climate data centres in this respect. Innovative heat-capture concepts, which will distribute excess heat produced by the data centre to local homes, businesses and leisure facilities, actually create a net positive environmental impact by reducing energy needs in the local community.
Using less – step 2
But efficiency and renewable energy may still not be enough. Artificial Intelligence, 5G, IoT and consumer use of the Cloud will all continue to fuel the explosion in data. This will inevitably increase the demand for data centres and therefore the environmental footprint they create. I believe that we need to show leadership as an industry and begin to think more carefully about what we store and where.
The Cloud can seem infinite – and for many consumers offered terabytes of free storage, to all intents and purposes it is. But we know that all that data has to reside somewhere – and often in multiple instances. Every selfie, every YouTube video, every Spotify playlist has an environmental impact. Recently, Dr Umaima Haider, a researcher at the EC Research Lab, estimated that the energy wasted storing selfies in the UK is equivalent to that consumed by around 100,000 European households every year!
We have a responsibility to educate our customers, and their consumers in best practice for data storage. Our own research has shown an appetite from consumers to know more about the environmental cost of their digital decisions. The concept of ‘eco-labelling’ of digital services is one supported by nearly 70% of consumers. People of all ages want to know more about the true cost of their digital lives and will increasingly select suppliers that actively help them make environmentally sustainable choices.
Leading in 2020 and beyond
Leadership means taking difficult decisions and doing what is right. DigiPlex has led in sustainable data centre design, building and operation for 20 years. We are not ‘going green’ because our customers are demanding it – but are actively helping our customers to improve their sustainability. This has always been core to our mission and vision as a company, but we cannot stand still or rely on our heritage. This means continued innovation in technology and design, listening to and advising customers to create the most sustainable solutions, and increasingly to communicate, educate and build understanding around managing data resources.
If the industry is to avoid ‘dataskam’ in 2020 it must fully engage with the environmental agenda - not as PR campaigns or marketing claims, but as a deep rooted focus for the whole sector. We have to give our customers, consumers, activists and governments confidence that we are acting on these issues and be proactive in advising all of these stakeholders on best practice to manage data in the digital age. DigiPlex was an early leader in this respect, but more importantly, is committed to continuing to make the best choices for sustainability in 2020.
Article by Joachim Kauppi - Director of International Sales
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