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According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Risks Report, “climate action failure” is the number one long-term threat to the world, and it is the risk that has potentially the most severe impacts over the next decade.1
At home, it is simple to make small changes such as switching off the lights when leaving a room, cutting down on central heating usage, or turning off taps—but when it comes to businesses, the process can be more complex. While internal processes can be developed to address concerns about a company’s carbon footprint or energy consumption, the more difficult challenge exists of ensuring that external suppliers are taking responsibility. Luckily, many solutions are already available that allow organisations to help reduce their carbon footprint when it comes to both their internal operations, and their suppliers.
The consequences of global warming on the UK are increasingly visible, seen via more frequent, severe flooding in many parts of the country, through to hotter, drier summers like the one we have just experienced in 2022. All of this impacts the economy, directly or indirectly, with drops in agricultural production or the displacement of citizens.
The IT sector is often under scrutiny due to concerns about the environmental impacts of new technologies. Leading companies in the technology sector have taken important steps to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprints associated with their activities and continue, year after year, to improve designs and even the way products are consumed.
Technology has already been implemented in a number of use cases to make existing processes more efficient and environmentally friendly, for example, using artificial intelligence (AI) to optimise irrigation in agriculture or the management of urban traffic to avoid polluting congestion. There are also corporate initiatives such as the AMD HPC Fund, which provides computing power to advance research in areas such as climate change, health, transport, big data, and many others. But how do IT players reduce their own carbon footprint and that of their products and services?
Making better use of energy
As observed by Moore's Law, each new generation of technological equipment, such as computers, is becoming more powerful than the previous versions. But in recent years, technology companies have embarked on the path of energy efficiency, seeking to implement objectives that will see improved energy efficiency across their products. This includes initiatives such as AMD's 25X20 goal which started in 2014 with the aim of improving mobile processor energy efficiency by 25x by 2020. AMD has already exceeded this goal and achieved up to a 31.7x increase in energy efficiency over the goal period2, and has more recently announced another initiative to improve the energy efficiency of its accelerated compute nodes used for artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) workloads by 30x by 2025. The company is on track to achieve its 30x25 goal having reached 6.8x as of mid-20223.
If achieved by 2025, AMD could reduce the power required for these systems to complete a single calculation by an estimated 97% over five years4. This goal represents more than a 2.5x acceleration of the industry trends from 2015-2020, as measured by the worldwide energy consumption for these computing segments5. If all AI and HPC server nodes globally were to make similar gains, billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in 2025 relative to baseline trends4.
Change consumption mode
Change in consumption patterns are also causing another trend to emerge, that is, 'as a service' models. It is no longer a question of buying hardware—whether infrastructure, software, or network—but engaging in a scalable subscription that allows users to consume only what is needed in terms of machines or licenses, while constantly benefiting from the latest technological advances. In addition, this makes it possible to reduce fixed asset costs, which can therefore improve balance sheets as well as environmental impact.
Norms and standards
In parallel with the efforts of manufacturers, we are also seeing the emergence of energy and environmental standards issued by governmental bodies. One example is the Energy Star label, an American government programme to promote energy saving, also implemented by the European Union. This certification has been awarded to many computer manufacturers, from desktop PCs to monitors, laptops and servers.
We should also note the emergence of more institutional industry certifications, such as B Corp, and carbon footprint accounting solutions that are measured against the most stringent international standards. These allow the publication of standardised reports clearly showing the evolution of companies' environmental initiatives and makes it possible to share best practices between players in the IT sector.
Optimising the energy consumption of IT solutions is not the only action available to technology players; we can also think innovatively about ways to repurpose the excess energy produced. For example, there is a growing number of data centre projects reusing the heat generated to heat annex buildings such as homes and swimming pools, or to propel turbines that generate electricity. There is even a data centre initiative that cools its servers with recycled cooking oil.
There is no shortage of avenues the IT sector can explore to help fight climate change, whether purely technological or more out-of-the-box solutions. Much remains to be done, but the IT sector is embarking on a constructive approach and is moving in the right direction.
1. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Global_Risks_Report_2022.pdf Climate Action Failure is defined by WEF as “Failure of governments and businesses to enforce, enact or invest in effective climate-change adaptation and mitigation measures, preserve ecosystems, protect populations and transition to a carbon-neutral economy”.
2. Testing by AMD Performance Labs as of 4/15/2020. Processors tested: AMD FX-7600P, AMD FX-8800P, AMD FX-9830P, AMD Ryzen 7 2700U, AMD Ryzen 7 2800H, AMD Ryzen 7 3750H, and AMD Ryzen 7 4800H. 25x20 program tracked against Energy Star Rev 6.1 8/12/2014 and 3DMark® 2011 P-Score and Cinebench R15 nT. Results may vary with drivers and BIOSes. RVM-108
3. EPYC-030: Calculation includes 1) base case kWhr use projections in 2025 conducted with Koomey Analytics based on available research and data that includes segment specific projected 2025 deployment volumes and data center power utilization effectiveness (PUE) including GPU HPC and machine learning (ML) installations, and 2) AMD CPU socket and GPU node power consumptions incorporating segment-specific utilization (active vs. idle) percentages and multiplied by PUE to determine actual total energy use for calculation of the performance per Watt. 6.79x = (base case HPC node kWhr use projection in 2025 x AMD 2022 perf/Watt improvement using DGEMM and typical energy consumption + Base case ML node kWhr use projection in 2025 *AMD 2022 perf/Watt improvement using ML math and typical energy consumption) /(2020 perf/Watt * Base case projected kWhr usage in 2025). For more information on the goal and methodology, visit https://www.amd.com/en/corporate-responsibility/data-center-sustainability.
4. EPYC-28B: SPECpower_ssj® 2008, SPECrate®2017_int_energy_base, and SPECrate®2017_fp_energy_base based on results published on SPEC’s website as of 11/10/22. VMmark® server power-performance (PPKW) based results published at https://www.vmware.com/products/vmmark/results3x.1.html?sort=score. The first 74 ranked SPECpower_ssj®2008 publications with the highest overall efficiency overall ssj_ops/W results were all powered by AMD EPYC processors. For SPECrate®2017 Integer (Energy Base), AMD EPYC CPUs power the first 4 of 5 SPECrate®2017_int_energy_base performance/system W scores. For SPECrate®2017 Floating Point (Energy Base), AMD EPYC CPUs power the first 8 of 9 SPECrate®2017_fp_energy_base performance/system W scores. For VMmark® server power-performance (PPKW), have the top two results for 2- and 4-socket matched pair results outperforming all other socket results. See https://www.amd.com/en/claims/epyc3x#faq-EPYC-028B for the full list. More information about SPEC® is available at http://www.spec.org. SPEC, SPECrate, and SPECpower are registered trademarks of the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation. VMmark is a registered trademark of VMware in the US or other countries.
5. Based on 2015-2020 industry trends in energy efficiency gains and data center energy consumption in 2025.