Data Centre Efficiency 101: How Digital Transformation and Climate Change are Directly Linked

We’ve all heard it before: “Digital Transformation.” It’s the buzzword of the 21st century, but as our personal and working lives continue to be centred around/impacted by technology, digital transformation will continue to be a part of our vocabulary, and more importantly, our business strategies. One market that has seen considerable growth thanks to digital transformation is data centres. By Peter Westwood, Data Centre Director at SPIE UK.

While this growth is positive in many ways, this is causing several challenges, particularly around the amount of energy used in the running of data centres. What most do not realise is the impact it has on energy consumption – in 2017, the global energy consumption of data centres was about 3.5% and is predicted to grow to approximately 14% by 2040. Due to the significant amount of power used to operate data centres and ensure they remain operational, global data centre energy use is set to reach about 5% of all consumption by 2020. Therefore, a range of energy reduction solutions are needed.


Tackling Cooling


The industry needs to give serious consideration to the merits of new cooling technologies and evaluate the energy losses encountered in the power train, including its complex equipment and resilience. Traditional air-conditioning units and mechanical refrigeration use an immense amount of power and energy to cool the servers; the industry has moved towards the use of free cooling and adiabatic technology.


One way to reduce carbon footprint and lower costs is to efficiently cool a facility through free or natural air cooling. This is especially helpful, as many data centre service providers build racks and servers that can run in temperatures as high as 27°C or above, which helps to reduce the amount of cooling required.


As time goes on, we’re also going to see more and more adoption of liquid-based cooling. As a more efficient means of temperature reduction compared to air cooling, the use of liquid-based cooling techniques is expected to grow through 2020. Even now, several server and data centre systems are being pre-built with liquid-based cooling.


Efficient IT Space Configuration


Organisations face significant costs in the operation of their buildings as a result of rising energy prices and high energy demand. The broader aspects of energy efficiency, in particular the IT equipment and its arrangement, along with the construction and location of the facility, does make a significant difference to the energy consumption of data centres.


One way to provide emission reduction and reliability enhancement for data centres is to deploy microgrid architectures. These are energy systems consisting of distributed energy sources that are capable of operating both in alongside, or separately from, main power grids.


Further, Open Compute Project (OCP) technologies can simplify architectures and enhance efficiency. These technologies are changes in both Infrastructure and IT architectures through the redesign of hardware technology to efficiently support the growing demands on compute infrastructure – it is also faster to deploy, easier to maintain and reduces cost.


Performance Measurement


Data centre operators have a number of options to combat the challenges of energy use, all of which require a full understanding of their operational characteristics. For these initiatives to be a success, engineering expertise is vital in order to assimilate the right information to inform design improvements, drive efficiencies through new technology and maintenance and operation procedures.


It is important to conduct an analysis of a business’ operational effectiveness and risk, as well as assess its potential improvements. This is done by looking at the facility, its systems, space utilisation and energy consumption along with the business drivers, to establish the value of both technical and operational enhancements. Business resilience and risk management and the impact on the environment should all be evaluated when optimising an organisation’s performance.




Data Centres are contributing to climate change and increasingly so, and although there has been a significant drive to improve efficiency, this will not offset the huge growth in data transition on a global scale. New strategies will be emerging to mitigate the amount of carbon emissions from this industry.

According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), at the rate we are currently going, global warming of 1.5 °C is likely between 2030 and 2052; therefore, making your data centre energy efficient is an undeniable reality.


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