How can green data centers play a pivotal role in future business models?

Green data centers are the only option to ensure a safe path for the environment and our digital needs

How can green data centers play a pivotal role in future business models? - CIO&Leader

Data center as an infrastructure platform has come a long way in the past few years. Today, India is seen as the hub of several data center projects, with IT giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon announcing substantial investment projects in the space.

Similarly, Indian real-estate companies and infrastructure groups too are leveraging this opportunity to invest in the data center space. Key geographical markets, such as Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Noida, Bangalore, Pune, and Kolkata are attracting huge investments. This, coupled with the government's vision of making India a data center hub with a targeted investment of INR 3 lakh crore in the next five years, will only make the data center industry that lucrative for foreign and domestic investors.

While the potential and promise of the data center market are huge, a majority of its running cost is electro-mechanical in nature. Power and energy contribute almost 40% of the total cost of running a data center. This is where the green data center's focus emerges, and companies prioritize carbon-neutral data centers over others.

Energy efficiency with environmental awareness approach

A green data center is helpful for storage and data management in which the electrical and mechanical systems are designed and built to offer energy efficiency with little environmental impact.

A green data center offers identical features and abilities as a traditional data center that still consumes energy with environmental consciousness; because of this, green data centers are regarded as eco-friendlier. To put things in perspective, the global green data center market size is expected to reach USD 142.8 billion by 2026, rising at a market growth of 19.7% CAGR during the forecast period, the highest growth amongst all other data center formats.

While the energy-efficiency attributes are huge today, there is a huge significance to being carbon-neutral, sustainable, and contributing to the environment. By 2025, it is estimated that about 463 exabytes of data will be created daily globally. To put things in perspective, 1 exabyte of data if to be made from a video call, the call would need to last for 2,37,832 years. With data creation getting more prominent, companies are searching for ways to store and process data with minimal environmental impact. The need to ensure that all servers are up and running to prevent any downtime is critical. Data center components require cooling systems in place for the servers to prevent them from overheating and overall maintenance, electricity charges, water supply, and other utility requirements. These tasks consume a large amount of energy, and therefore it's necessary to ensure sustainable practices are in place.

Positive brand image  

From a brand perspective, going green is talked about across numerous industries, and by converting energy-consuming data centers into green data centers, a company can enforce a positive brand image for itself and its data center services. From an ESG compliance and policies perspective, several countries, such as Germany, the UK, and South Korea today require companies to keep their carbon- footprint below a certain level. There is significant regulatory pressure on firms to go green. Such policies are broken down into technology and pollution standards, market instruments (green taxes, trade permits, and ecosystem services), information disclosure, and voluntary policies. Some of the best green data center operators formally document initiatives under their annual reports' environmental, sustainability, and governance (ESG) reports.

An interesting case study to emphasize that the enterprises are serious about their responsibilities while going green is the Microsoft Data Center. Microsoft shared a breakthrough announcement that underwater data centers are reliable, practical, and support sustainable energy usage. In the summer of 2020, the firm reeled up a containerized data center submerged 117 feet underwater back in spring 2018. Consistently cool subsurface of the sea allowed for efficient data center design and increased resistance to corrosion compared to data centers on land. These data centers use heat exchange plumbing that is usually found in submarines. This could change how data centers talk about going green by having small, containerized data centers closer to customer locations to reduce latency and maintain energy efficiency since they are stored deep in the ocean. This would eliminate the need to construct large data centers on land, translating to a minimum or no requirement for multiple cooling systems, air conditioning, and office complexes traditionally installed in a data center.

Critical strategic points to go green   

So, the quintessential question here is - how does one go green, or what's the most efficient way of going about a green data center?

  • Start with the basics, opt for renewable power and energy such as solar or wind to fuel your data center energy needs
  • Design and build data centers around energy-efficient cooling solutions.
  • Use sustainable building materials for the construction of data centers. One may go one step ahead and leave at least 25% of the land for green space
  • Design and build flexible and innovative electro-mechanical solutions for data centers so that an operator can incorporate environmentally friendly solutions
  • Perform thorough server virtualization, whereby the means of integrated software the work of several machines can be done by a single computer and processor
  • Organizations can deploy several operating systems and applications on a lesser number of servers via virtualization, which reduces overall energy consumption in the data center
  • Disruptive technologies such as AI, ML, and data analytics can automate data center processes to save energy, forecast power consumption, analyze data output, monitor various features such as temperature, data center humidity, and cooling process. Although software integration could be an expensive and time-consuming process, there are benefits such as improved efficiency, reduced costs, and reduced power consumption

To conclude, data centers are here to stay. The increase in digital content consumption, development in AI, ML, 5G, edge computing, cloud storage, and the internet of things will amount to data being generated at huge volumes, fuel the need for data centers.

The need of the hour is for companies to marry the thought of ensuring the highest ROI and being a leader in developing a safer and sustainable environment. With several IT companies ensuring to become carbon-neutral in the next couple of decades, going green is the only way to sustain data center infrastructure. Green data centers are the only option to ensure a safe path for the environment and our digital needs.    

The author is Director at Techno Electric & Engineering Co

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