AI. Friend or foe for the data center industry?

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The European data center industry finds itself at an intriguing juncture. That’s to say, from September 2024, our industry will have to comply with strict and specific new EU energy-efficiency regulations, while simultaneously having to find new ways to cope with an increase in energy demands being driven by the AI revolution which is now in full swing.

Concept of data center and AI

Kickstart: the networking event that examines the digital landscape

It’s this conundrum that I’ve been reflecting on, even long before I attended Kickstart Europe 2024 in Amsterdam this February. At this year’s event, it was inevitable that AI would be the hot topic dominating discussions, and I was intrigued to hear from my fellow peers about the implications of AI on our industry, in terms of how can we continue to ensure power availability for increasingly energy-hungry data centers, while at the same time keeping the industry on track with new energy-efficiency targets.

The game-changer that is AI

A quick read of our recent White Paper 110 and you’ll see just how profoundly AI is disrupting the way data centers have been traditionally designed, built, and managed. As Andreas Herden, Senior Vice-President Sales Germany & Continental Europe for Green Mountain put it so succinctly at Kickstart, “We have so many requests for AI deployments. AI is the key driver. It is dramatically changing the entire IT landscape.”

The speed in proliferation of AI adoption is quite staggering too. To give you an idea on the scale of growth in AI, the market is set to reach $407 billion by 2027 (approx. €382 billion), with expected annual growth of 37.3% between now and 2030. Because data centers serve as the critical infrastructure supporting the AI ecosystem, AI is completely reliant on data centers. But the flip side to this is, data centers are now relying on AI and data analytics to help power themselves in a more effective way. And this brings us neatly to the topic of sustainability.

The road to net-zero

As I’ve touched on, new energy-efficiency regulations such as the European Commission’s Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) are about to come into force, which will require data center companies to annually report on their energy performance. And while the EED’s stated goal of reducing energy consumption in Europe by 11.7% by 2030 sounds ambitious, it’s encouraging to know that our industry is working hand-in-hand with the EU to make this target attainable. As Lex Coors, President of the European Data Centre Association revealed, “in the last few years, the EED has had an open consultation with our industry, working with us as trusted advisors.”

Leveraging the power of AI

So, given the acceleration in AI and its insatiable demand for data center computing power, how is it going to be possible to achieve a net-zero data center industry? Well, data centers are already leveraging AI-powered automation, data analytics and machine learning, to make gains in energy efficiency and decarbonization. AI-based cooling and e-waste recycling are two more examples that highlight how our industry is tapping into the power of AI to drive sustainability.

Alongside AI, renewable energy is another central theme that was under the microscope at Kickstart 2024. As Martjin van Wijngaarden, Global Energy Transaction Manager for Iron Mountain Data Centers explained to us in Amsterdam, “We have a commitment to 24/7 Carbon Free Energy, and the industry is already acknowledging the progress we’re making in response to our climate-neutral commitments.” 

All of this industry feedback tells me that climate neutrality for our industry can be achieved, but only through ongoing dialogue and in close partnership with our customers, partners, right up to government level. In fact, industry partnerships are more important than ever for our net-zero ambitions, now that AI is so obviously here to stay.

Accelerating new best practices

I believe AI can act as a positive accelerator for our data center industry, propelling us faster to where we need to get. As my Schneider Electric colleague Jim Simonelli, CTO for Datacenters put it, to cope with the surge in AI, “you want to build as efficiently as possible, you want to use storage to enable more renewables on the grid, and you want utilities driving more capacity for renewables.”

There’s no doubt then, AI is here for the long haul, and it’s forcing our industry to find new ways of driving data center energy efficiency. On a personal level, I’m confident we’ll succeed in this, because traditionally our industry has been strong at working together to come up with innovative solutions that mitigate new challenges. What’s more, I’m proud, not only to work for a company that’s taking the lead in sustainable best practices, but also to represent an industry that’s working together to provide sustainability blueprints that can help other energy intensive industries to decarbonize.

2024 – a big year for energy efficiency, resiliency, and sustainability

Finally, a big thank you to Kickstart Europe for a memorable 2024 edition. Your annual conference is a great example of how our industry is tightly connected. Here’s to Kickstart 2025, continuing where we left off, exchanging on the progress our industry will make in the following months – by leveraging the power of AI to drive ever greater data center energy efficiency, resiliency, and sustainability!

Discover More

Learn more about Kickstart Europe:

Discover what AI disruption means for data center design in our White Paper 110

Find out how Schneider Electric’s DCIM software tool can help drive data center energy efficiency

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