Building sustainable edge data centers

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We’ve experienced significant change in our world over the last few months as a result of COVID-19. As we work to navigate this situation and define our new normal, I’m fascinated by some of the unintended outcomes of the pandemic. For one, our new “everything-from-home” environment has reinforced the need for and in many cases, accelerated the digital transformation we’ve been speaking about at Schneider Electric for the past few years. Secondly, with many countries in varying stages of lock-down, we’re seeing a reduction in air pollution globally.  Experts agree that this reduction in pollution is short-term. We haven’t found a solution yet to our energy dilemma. Similar to how we’re seeing all sectors unite to overcome our present crisis, we’ll need the same broad, cross-sector collaboration to solve the energy dilemma. I believe the data center industry can lead by example.

An industry well-versed in driving sustainability

The data center industry has seen much success in driving sustainability in centralized and regional data center environments. Just 10-15 years ago, a standard data center had a highly inefficient PUE of ~1.8. Strong industry innovations like improvements in data center design, cooling, data center management, and uninterruptible power supplies, led to an 80% reduction in energy loss resulting in data centers today which can achieve a PUE of 1.17.

As an industry, we have a lot to be proud of as we continue to strive for more sustainability-focused innovations to introduce across the full data center value chain. We’re already seeing new innovations come to market today such as SF6-free switch gear and advanced battery technology. There are innovation opportunities on the horizon as well – think liquid cooling and data center grid interaction. With the exciting advancements ahead of us, it’s important that we not lose sight of a looming challenge, namely the sustainability of edge data centers.

The continued rise in IoT connected devices coupled with the digital transformation of our global economy is generating mass amounts of data which often need to be processed quicker and closer to the point of data generation or consumption. This shift towards more compute happening at the edge of a network, edge computing, requires the deployment of local edge data centers. Local edge data centers, as we’ve defined them at Schneider, are IT infrastructure enclosures / spaces / facilities distributed geographically to enable endpoints on the network. We’re seeing local edge data centers deployed across three primary application areas:

  • Commercial: retail, healthcare, finance, education
  • Industrial: oil & gas, mining, automotive, manufacturing
  • Telco: central offices, cell towers, base stations, building tops

Not all data centers are created equal…but they can be

It’s simple to overlook the impending edge energy challenge if it’s viewed through the lens of only a handful of local edge data center installations, or if local edge data centers are equated to traditional regional or centralized data centers. That is, designed and built for optimal energy efficiency. Imagine the impact if these local edge data center deployments are viewed at a greater scale. To illustrate the growing sense of urgency, based on our internal projections, energy consumption by edge data centers is expected to exceed 3K TWh over the next 20 years. That is the equivalent energy consumption of ~275 million households.

The expected surge in edge data center energy consumption is the result of the rapid pace of digital innovations (IoT, big data, AI) which are heavily reliant on data centers to process and store huge amounts of information. To mitigate the edge energy challenge, the data center industry needs to focus on ensuring edge data centers are built to be energy efficient at scale from both a resource and cost perspective. With 7.5M new micro data centers expected to be installed by 2025, the global footprint at peak power is projected to be 120 GW*. If we explore this a little further on a scale of high efficiency vs. moderate efficiency, the annual energy consumption cost would equate to €82B / $92B and ~450K CO2 tons per year vs. €97B / $109B and ~600K CO2 tons per year, respectively. This is a clear example of the business case aligning well to the green case.

Ensuring Life Is On in the All-Digital World and Beyond

In Schneider’s Secure Power Division, we are driven by an ambition to empower the digital transformation of our customers by ensuring their critical networks, systems, and processes are highly available and resilient. The resiliency needed to enable digital transformation, and in fact, power the all-digital world can be accomplished sustainably. To achieve this, I strongly believe that edge data centers deployed at scale require:

  • Increased standardization and integration – With many edge environments having limited or no IT staff, a consistent pain point voiced by end-users, it’s critical that reference designs and digital design tools be available to aid in simple installation. Standardization simplifies deployment and maintenance which is an added benefit for everyone, including partners. In parallel, integrated systems offer the added benefit of simplified deployment and management. Schneider’s 6U Wall Mount EcoStruxure Micro Data Center is a good example of a solution which nicely marries the concepts of standardization and integration. The all-in-one solution is simple to install, arrives integrator ready, and can be monitored remotely with our EcoStruxure IT cloud-based platform.
  • Greater efficiency – Given the increasing demand we are currently seeing for local edge data centers and our installation growth projections (7.5M by 2025), it would be impossible for IT staff to manage this number of deployments. A clear reason why greater operational efficiency is required. Emerging capabilities like data insights, benchmarking, and predictive analytics, are key differentiators which if leveraged, can contribute to driving lower costs and greater efficiency.
  • Cost effective serviceability – Similarly, serving edge data centers at scale is almost unimaginable. With many edge sites having limited or no IT staff, the approach to servicing edge data centers needs to be both practical and cost-effective. New services are emerging that can help to remove the complexity in managing edge sites. We recently launched our Monitoring & Dispatch Services, offered by Schneider Electric and our network of partners, intended to help customers better manage their multiple edge sites. Monitoring & Dispatch provides customers with a suite of service offers including 24/7 continuous monitoring, remote trouble shooting, next business day on-site support & replacement parts, and the proper disposal of old UPS batteries or parts. You can learn more about our Monitoring & Dispatch Service here.
  • Remote monitoring and management with AI – A theme across all these points has been the critical need for remote monitoring and management capabilities to effectively and efficiently manage edge sites. For instance, EcoStruxure IT, our cloud-based monitoring and management solution provides users with visibility into the performance of their IT infrastructure and can deliver real-time recommendations to optimize performance and ensure uptime. To meet the varying needs and business models of customers and partners, the EcoStruxure IT Software & Services suite enables a user to monitor and manage their infrastructure directly, through their preferred partner, or have Schneider manage it directly with our 24/7 Service Bureau.

I am a firm believer that the data center industry can continue to model the right type of behavior in achieving successful and sustainable business operations. If we continue to push the limits on innovation, coupled with the right sense of urgency, then I do believe that we’ll soon be talking about the high efficiency of centralized and regionalized data centers, as well as those at the edge of our networks.

I invite you to hear more on the topic of building sustainable edge data centers at our Innovation Day: Resilient Digital Transformation 2020 live virtual events.

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  • Sanju Santhan

    4 years ago

    Wonderful thought has gone into the technology with recent developments in mind. Yes, while many customers are looking to venture into Cloud computing, our technology like Micro Data Center is ensuring that their equal importance is provided to the Edge computing as well. Very rightly said during this time of Centralization and Regionalization we will have to educate customers on the need and importance of the edge Computing. The Micro Datacenter supported by Monitor and Dispatch service are products and Service that can address the need of the hour.

    Excellent Article, gives a good insight of our Capability for the Future.

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