Is the Data Center Industry Ready to Respond to the Climate Change Emergency?

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On November 5, I will join senior executive leaders from Uptime Institute, Microsoft, Lancaster University, and Green Peace for a Data Center Dynamics (DCD) London panel to discuss the data center industry’s response to the global climate emergency. This will be an important conversation for our industry. Data centers and the overall IT industry account for 5-10% of total electricity consumption, roughly the same amount of electricity used by the United Kingdom. Of this percentage of electricity used, data centers contribute approximately 0.3% to overall carbon emissions1. At Schneider Electric, we believe the global climate emergency is solvable. We understand that progress for all doesn’t need to come at the expense of a sustainable future for our planet. This paradox can be reconciled if we take advantage of this unique opportunity to drive a real step change in efficiency.

The green case must align to the business case

Green should be and can be good for business. Effectively incorporating energy efficiency into a business strategy can drive down operational expenses and drive up revenues through new customer acquisition and customer retention – a positive for pricing and margins.  It should also strengthen the business’ brand driving increased opportunities in new markets, and it can certainly help to attract new talent to the company.

At Schneider, our commitment to sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. It extends across our technologies, value chain, business model, culture and is deeply rooted in our strategy. We are committed to maximizing the efficiency of large and small data centers through ongoing innovation and collaboration with our customers and partners. Our core offer, EcoStruxure, is helping thousands of our customers drastically reduce their energy usage. In fact, through our current technologies we are helping our customers save 120 million tons of CO2 by 2020. This is the equivalent of four years of emissions for a city like Barcelona, where we recently hosted our Global Innovation Summit. We are empowering our customers to operate more sustainably and are walking the talk ourselves. Schneider is committed to go carbon neutral by 2025.

Acting in the face of (climate) change

woman and man with ipadAs an industry, it’s crucial that we work together and take an integrated approach to combat our current climate challenges. We know that data centers require large amounts of energy to operate and sustain reliable uptime. The data center industry has a proven track record of driving efficiency in operations. If we think back to 2006, data centers had a typical PUE of ~1.8, which was highly inefficient. Through advancements in technology, ongoing innovations, more efficient designs, and standard best practices (UPS improvements, containment, economization), the data center infrastructure industry is producing data center equipment and systems that enable more efficient and reliable data center operations. Today, data centers can achieve and retain a PUE of 1.17. That’s an 80% reduction in energy loss over a little more than a decade.

As the next wave of digital transformation drives more IT to the edge of the network, it’s imperative that we ensure data centers at the edge are as efficient as hyperscale data centers. At Schneider, we see the proliferation of edge data centers and the need for energy efficiency in this space as another pivotal moment for our industry. We know the shortcomings of edge environments: poor resiliency, lack of remote monitoring and management, lack of standardization and integration, large number of sites with limited IT staff. These are many of the same challenges we faced as an industry 10-15 years ago with enterprise and colocation data centers. We have the industry knowledge and expertise to continue driving efficiencies in the industry.

A new age of energy efficiency

As the leader in the data center infrastructure market, Schneider’s commitment to energy efficiency is unwavering. But we know we can’t work in isolation to drive continued efficiency in data centers and introduce efficiency at the edge. As an industry, we’ll need to renew (and in some cases develop) partnerships, be transparent, and hold each other accountable.

We’ll also need to broaden our thinking and our view of the ecosystem, considering the overall performance of a data center. Continuing to integrate renewables into the value chain will be important, but it won’t be the all-encompassing Hail Mary that many data center operators rely on to demonstrate their commitment to energy efficiency. We’ll need to push ourselves further into new territory. For instance, utility companies and data center operators, such as hyperscalers, will need to commit to energy purchase agreements. We’ve reached a point where we need to look beyond incorporating renewables into the energy mix and focus more on making the most of our current energy.

Is the data center industry ready to respond to the climate emergency? Yes. The mobilization and response of our industry to the climate emergency will take a great deal of effort and collaboration. There will likely be hurdles and surprises along the way. My colleague, Steven Carlini, Vice President of Innovation & Data Center, is set to publish a blog post that explores some surprising sources of energy consumption in the data center space.

The data center industry has successfully tackled energy challenges in the past. I’m confident we can continue this positive momentum. If you’d like to hear more on this topic, I encourage you to join me on November 5 for the DCD London plenary panel, ‘How should the data center industry now respond to the global climate emergency?

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