Sustainability is standing firm as a business-critical priority for those in the data centre industry this year. With customers challenging data centre operators and service providers on their green credentials, and the pace of government regulations in the industry gaining momentum, no data centre business can avoid investment into green goals if it wants to keep a competitive edge in this industry.
In the EU, businesses signed up to the Climate Neutral Data Pact have only one more year before they need to fulfil their commitment to a range of sustainability performance standards. It is no surprise that there is a sense of urgency in the efforts to reduce energy consumption, optimise power management and find more ways of tapping into renewable energy sources.
More regulations will inevitably come into force; in the UK, many of these will stem from the government’s 2050 net zero target. And although mandates are not likely to be universal across the globe, new government requirements will have a profound impact in shaping the industry in the coming decades.
In practice, rather than a seismic change, data centre operators and service providers are taking small but sure steps towards environmental goals, such as achieving 100% renewable energy use. The drive to be as green as possible is fuelling innovation in the industry; for example, some businesses are exploring new clean energy sources such as hydrogen, while others are evaluating how new technologies can help to further optimise efficient energy use.
Is AI a double-edged sword for sustainability?
New technologies – notably AI – are presenting both challenges and opportunities for the data centre industry in its quest to meet green targets. While surging demand for AI technologies is placing unprecedented pressure on data centre operators to provide sufficient power and capacity to support this growth, data centre operators must do this within limits. Both environmental targets and the unavoidable worldwide power shortage are directly impacting data centre design and operations. Balancing power to meet ever-increasing compute demands with sustainable operations will be testing for most data centre operators.
AI is also set to be gainfully employed by data centre businesses for green initiatives this year. Tools like predictive analytics are already enabling better data and resource management and process automation, and enhanced energy and water usage efficiency in line with aggressive sustainability performance targets. AI-based technologies can also deliver insights that improve operational decisions like workload management and capacity planning.
Recognition of sustainability expertise is growing
From a business standpoint, there is widespread recognition that specialist data centre providers are now the best option for managing environmentally friendly models such as IaaS and SaaS. Industry research has found that organisations migrating from on-premises to IaaS infrastructures can significantly reduce their energy consumption by up to 65 percent and carbon emissions by up to 84 percent.
In the majority of cases, it simply no longer makes sense for a business to run its own data centre operations, especially with the introduction of requirements such as the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) framework. This is mandatory for around 12,000 large companies in the UK and requires these organisations to document their efforts to improve energy efficiency. Why then would a company not tap into the specialist knowledge and economies of scale that the data centre industry can already provide?
The long-term business value of data centres
In 2024, we expect to see an increased and intensified focus from end customers on sustainable data centres. From a data centre sector perspective, being sustainable represents a key driver for business growth and competitive advantage. By positioning strongly on net zero, data centres can offer their carbon responsible customers value added services that will attract a premium from clients looking for high quality green energy. Similarly, they can offer clients customised sustainability reports on their carbon footprint and environmental impact that more and more businesses will need to justify their own carbon neutral efforts.