Data Centers: Sustainability and Resiliency Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

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Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, famously noted last year that, “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” I think we can all agree that the pace of digital transformation has not slowed since then. It’s important to recognize the expanding role of data centers in our increasingly digital society. Simply put, data centers enable our digital-first future. Given our growing dependence on data centers, it’s critical that we recognize two of the biggest issues data center operators face as they move into the future: resiliency and sustainability.

The Defining Issue of our Time

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the defining issues of our time. We are the first generation to recognize it, and the generation best positioned to enact long-standing change.

Climate change is essentially an energy challenge considering over 80% of global CO2 emissions are due to the production and consumption of energy. The way we use energy today is highly inefficient. We have reached a critical juncture. It took us over one hundred years to reach this point and according to the latest IPCC report, released in August of this year, we have just nine years to reign in emissions to keep within the 1.5C threshold. This target is more feasible than we think but will require a shift in mindset, new greener technologies, and collaboration across industries.

The Path to Sustainability and Resiliency

At Schneider Electric, we see a path to achieving sustainability and resiliency which doesn’t require compromise or tradeoffs and is enabled by electricity and digitization. We believe electricity is the most efficient source of energy and is the best vector of decarbonization. By taking this a step further and coupling digital with electric, the way we use electricity becomes smarter because digital makes the invisible…visible, while also eliminating waste and driving efficiency. Finally, connecting the dots and enabling visibility across all facets of an operation is integral to powering a new electric world – what we at Schneider refer to as Electricity 4.0.

Data Centers: Enabling our digital-first future

As I noted earlier, there’s been a lot of discussion around the remarkable progress we’ve made over the last 12-18 months towards a digital-first future. This accelerated transition to digital is enabled by data centers which are the backbone of the digital economy.

In our increasingly digital world, we’ve witnessed a growing demand for data center services. Data center uptime was always a business imperative with clear stipulations outlined in service level agreements. As a result of our increased dependency on data centers, any downtime or outage experienced across the value chain, has become high-profile, headline-making news.

Recent examples this year alone include the Fastly (content delivery network) outage in June or the networking glitch which caused an outage for Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram in early October. This outage impacted not only recreational social media users but also small and medium-sized businesses which rely on the platforms for their marketing and communication activities.

At the same time, there is growing awareness and public discussion around the environmental impact of data centers in countries around the globe. Some countries have placed moratoriums on new data center builds. Singapore, where data centers account for 7% of the nation’s electricity usage, paused new data center builds in 2019 as they work to identify solutions to enable more sustainable data center operations in the tropical climate. In regions struggling with water shortage, such as the U.S. West-coast, local communities have raised concerns over new data center deployments and their usage of finite water supplies.

Shifting from ‘resiliency OR sustainability’ to ‘resiliency AND sustainability’

Achieving resiliency and sustainability in data center operations are now both business imperatives. It is a common misperception that both cannot be achieved in data center operations. In fact, data centers of the future will readily demonstrate that responsibly maintaining uptime in operations is possible by leveraging new technologies, implementing bold strategies, and adopting a new mindset.

Equinix is one example of a digital infrastructure provider leading by example. I have the pleasure of speaking with Chris Kimm, Senior Vice President of Americas IBX Operations at Equinix, during Schneider Electric’s signature conference – Innovation Summit World Tour 2021. During the Data Centers of the Future Strategy Talk, Chris and I exchange on three interconnected trends reshaping the data center industry:

  1. The rapid increase in demand for digital infrastructure
  2. The requirement for even more resiliency
  3. The public pressure for data centers to become more sustainable

During the 15-minute exchange, Chris shares specific examples of how Equinix is approaching the dual business imperative of resiliency and sustainability in Equinix’s operations. I share my perspective on how Schneider Electric contributes our expertise to re-invent data centers of the future that are resilient, sustainable, efficient, and adaptive.

Learn more about Schneider Electric’s Innovation Summit World Tour 2021.

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