After years of staying under the political and green agenda radar, colocation data centers are at last adapting to the increasing requirements to monitor, record and present sustainability data in a like-for-like format.

Whether this is driven by customers, industry bodies, investors, legislators, or lobby groups, the market is now coming to terms with the collective desire for traceable documentation.

As we move out from the cloud that is Covid-19, do we risk compromising the forward motion that has been made towards greater awareness of data center environments and more efficient and sustainable energy use?

Money is flowing into innovation and BloombergNEF a research firm, believes that last year investors set aside more than $500bn for the energy transition sector which is essentially code for decarbonising what we do and covers energy, industry, farming and transport.

Early in 2021 JP Morgan Chase said it would commit $2.5trn to sustainable investing over ten years, and half of this will be from its own capital reserves.

So, the one strong conclusion is that when it comes to capital flows there are very serious questions being asked about sustainability practices within the markets we all hold dear. Inaction is unacceptable from the environment’s point of view and could be limiting from a financial perspective.

Sustainability has therefore risen to the top of the stack in terms of operational priorities. Whether this is through internal or external pressure, many more data centers and their customers are actively committed to operating in a more sustainable manner.

This is no doubt helped by the increase in renewable sources of energy that data centers were quick to capitalise on, and which provide a method to partly offset the data center’s environmental impact.

Moreover, many sites offering continuous operation, will almost certainly require diesel backup generators. HVO (Hydrated Vegetable Oil), is relatively new on the fuel market, but is a synthesized 100% recycled vegetable oil that reduces CO2 emissions by up to 90% against diesel oil. Relatively simple and practical actions that move the data center forward in terms of sustainability.

Nonetheless, it is the energy used in cooling the ITE that is the highest hurdle to efficiency at the data center. The 2020 results of The Uptime Institute PUE survey found that out of 450 global data centers that supplied data, Europe’s cohort emerged as the most efficient followed by the US. However, the average data center PUE has remained relatively flat at 1.59, “effectively a trend of no improvement, or marginal improvement, since 2013.” Stated the Uptime Institute.

ITE cooling, which in most situations means air cooling the environment around the servers and communications equipment, accounts for nearly 37 percent of the overall data center power budget. The increasing density of processing power within ITE environments is one reason why ITE cooling is one of the faster rising operational costs for many data centers.

Where replacing older less efficient cooling systems is not practicable, data centers are implementing smart sensors and systems within the ITE environment to monitor and gather the data required to offer effective process control and optimise air flow in the white space. In many situations this can reduce cooling energy use by 50 percent.

With the rise in hybrid cloud architectures facilitated within the colocation facility, increasing numbers of organizations are migrating application workloads over to these sites.

This benefits the customer, by reducing its onsite data processing and therefore reducing its direct carbon footprint. However, as we move forward organisations will also have in place strategies to record Scope 3, supply chain emissions.

For colocation providers, attracting and retaining sustainability-focused tenants means not only operating in a sustainable manner but also publicly sharing sustainability goals and results.

Here, at Panduit, we believe we can assist colocation providers and implement technology to demonstrate the sustainability capabilities that the site is working towards in four highly efficient strategies:

  1. Highlight the opportunity of organizations participating in voluntary sustainability reporting frameworks such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). This offers effective methods to determine what data to track and how, as well as providing results in a manner that is consistent with what data center tenants require.
  2. Curate content explaining how hybrid cloud frameworks enable repurposing of unbalanced resources in data centers, which leads to reclaiming usable power, space, cooling and connectivity, as well as reducing high and unnecessary energy costs.
  3. Take advantage of innovations in wireless monitoring and cooling products, such as SynapSense and SmartZone-Cloud which help operators gain control over unpredictable environmental conditions and capacity challenges.
  4. Deliver to data center providers an innovative preconfigured solution that speeds up deployment and minimises the waste during the build phase of a facility.

The industry has moved away from the ‘performance at any cost’ mantra. Sustainability and more efficient energy use will continue to be headline parameters that data center providers and customers will pursue evermore effective solutions.