The 4th Pillar of Data Center Management: Energy and Sustainability Monitoring & Reporting

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The cost, complexity, and criticality of data center facility infrastructure systems makes the use of software management tools necessary. Building management systems (BMS), electrical power monitoring systems (EPMS) and data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software tools – i.e., the “3 pillars of data center management” – are all used to ensure operations remain uninterrupted while space, power, and cooling resources are used efficiently.

Now, however, there’s a growing urgency and increasing requirement to track and report environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related goals and metrics. Increasing pressure from tenants, investors, and government regulations for climate risk transparency and disclosure will drive data center providers to implement energy and sustainability software tools making it the 4th pillar of effective data center management. This is particularly so for cloud and colocation providers, as well as enterprises with large portfolios of distributed, hybrid IT assets.

Sustainability initiatives as a key data center performance metric

We are in the midst of a make-or-break decade for limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Scientific predictions, like the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), dramatically illustrate what is likely to happen to humankind and our ecosystems if we do not quickly and adequately address the causes of human-driven climate change and resource depletion. These dire consequences have created unique business conditions that make energy and sustainability monitoring and reporting software an imperative. This environment is characterized by complex energy markets, emissions trading schemes, evolving government environmental regulations, growing ESG-driven investment power, and new customer demands that view progress on sustainability initiatives as a key performance metric. White Paper 64, “Four Key Drivers for Colocation Data Centers to Prioritize Environmental Sustainability”, goes into more detail on the forces driving organizations with larger data center portfolios to focus on this challenge.

Years ago, the data center industry proactively developed the power usage effectiveness (PUE) metric which quickly became widely adopted and used to drive dramatic improvements in infrastructure energy efficiency. Today, more mature, large data center service provider organizations have adopted comprehensive enterprise sustainability management programs that go far beyond energy efficiency. These holistic programs involve corporate environmental goal setting, new energy procurement strategies, detailed action plans, on-going data collection, and frequent detailed reporting of a wide variety of sustainability-related metrics, typically as part of overall Corporate ESG reporting.

data center engineer using Energy and sustainability software

3 key drivers for implementing data center energy and sustainability software tools

Energy and sustainability monitoring and reporting software, like Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure™ Resource Advisor, is a critical tool to use in these programs. This best-in-class, AI-assisted, cloud-based solution for managing cross-enterprise energy and sustainability data aggregates resource data on supply, demand, and sustainability in one location. It enables actionable insights on holistic program performance to drive top and bottom-line benefits and provide actionable outcomes of climate and sustainability targets for resource reductions, data transparency and business resilience.  The complex business and energy environment that has risen from the global need to address the climate has led to the emergence of 3 key drivers for implementing energy and sustainability software tools:

Increasingly mandatory emissions reporting- Today, over 40 countries now require greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reporting. Government mandates typically mean penalties for non-compliance. So, this type of non-financial reporting requires a high degree of accuracy and being defensible in case of audits or legal challenges. Software designed for non-financial reporting is, therefore, needed.

Market forces impelling accurate, auditable, and transparent non-financial reporting- Given customer and investor demands/expectations, the consequences of poor accounting and reporting can be very severe. Corporate branding, stock price, etc. can all be negatively impacted quickly upon the discovery by the market of errors or lack of reporting or transparency. Software tools designed to collect, report, and provide checksum features should be used to reduce human error while making the data traceable and transparent.

Scope and organizational complexity- Data center providers tend to have multiple sites, geographically dispersed, sometimes globally. This creates data collection and reporting challenges that are solved by having the right software tools. Effective environmental sustainability improvements require executive buy-in and leadership as well as collaboration between procurement/finance (energy sourcing and spend), facility/IT operations (drive efficiency, reduce usage), and corporate sustainability officers/teams (manage overall efforts, reduce impact overall). There is tremendous opportunity to use the data and insights generated by data center providers today to drive more than just operational benefits. This data, combined with human expertise, can significantly enhance how companies approach sustainability Without the right tools, there is less than needed cooperation, goals are often not aligned, and people remain in their siloes. Energy and sustainability software tools can be the glue or conduit to bring organizations together and align on objectives.

Bottom line: you’re not going to be able to use existing tools or spreadsheets to manage all ESG data effectively.

Choosing an effective solution

Effective solutions ensure accurate, auditable, and transparent non-financial reporting of energy and environmental sustainability data and metrics. While there are various solutions available in the market today, choose one that embodies the 3 key features/attributes described below. These are what will make one solution more effective than another at providing the critical functions of these software tools.

Includes energy procurement optimization functions 

More than just reporting on sustainability measures, you should select a tool that will also take into account and analyze your energy bills (check for errors), procurement RFP activities, energy contract outcomes, and support the design and execution of commodity risk management strategies. Today’s complex energy markets combined with the vast amounts of market and supply/demand data being generated today provides many opportunities to reduce costs, consumption, and GHG emissions. Using software to include energy procurement managers and give other stakeholders visibility into their initiatives will help align the entire organization on its larger sustainability goals and objectives.

Integrates with vendor energy procurement and market services

Since much of the data required by sustainability reporting frameworks comes from energy and waste invoices, ensuring all sites across all regions participate in providing resource data is critically important. This combined with the complexity and wide variation of energy market dynamics regionally, means that many organizations would benefit from being able to outsource the management and analysis of this data to a 3rd party. Choose a vendor who offers the technical, energy/commodities market, and financial expertise to handle the intake and analysis of all your invoices over time to ultimately enable your organization to buy energy smarter to save money and reduce emissions.

Uses a cloud-based architecture

Cloud-based solutions tend to simplify and accelerate software procurement, setup, and on-going maintenance of the tool set. It is the most effective way to give secure information access to all data sets across all sites in all regions while providing a means to summarize data and reports across the overall enterprise.  A cloud-based architecture also enables the safe and secure collection of all relevant data in one centralized location. From there it can be anonymized, cleaned, and backed by Artificial Intelligence paired with expertise of humans to extract better actionable intelligence and insights that ultimately lead to more savings, a smaller environmental impact, and creates a sustainability-based competitive advantage.

By using technology to track resource use across the enterprise, data center service providers can realize increased operational effectiveness while reducing resource consumption, which has a positive impact on both the bottom line and the company’s overall environmental footprint. Energy and sustainability monitoring and reporting software like Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Resource Advisor can be used to help drive carbon reductions, energy savings, and efficiency improvements at an overall enterprise level while accelerating decision-making and progress toward sustainability goals. To learn more about this topic, access WP 54, “Environmental Sustainability Management (ESM) Software for Colocation Data Centers.” With clear insights into the performance of your operations over time, goal setting and achievement are bolstered with access to efficiency and sustainability metrics. The output of these tools provides the basis for accurate, auditable, and transparent non-financial reporting on environmental sustainability.

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