Dirty data centres are destroying the planet

Dirty data centres

The increasing popularity of enterprise cloud services is driving the growth in the construction of new data centres, which in turn are becoming more energy-efficient. 

The cloud trend looks likely to continue through this year at least, and maybe beyond, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.

The company lists what it considers will be the top five trends to watch this year, and they are:

  • mergers and acquisitions within the data centre operator market, which will make it difficult for new entrants;
  • governmental pressure over sovereignty and taxation;
  • even faster growth in cloud adoption;
  • wholesale pricing will largely replace retail pricing; and
  • data centres will provide a boost to real estate sector.

JLL says leasing activity is “hotter than ever” in the multi-tenant data centre space, with cloud demand fuelling much of the momentum.

One of the key issues facing data centres is energy consumption. This is an important issue both from an economic point of view, in that it costs a lot of money to power data centres, and also in political terms, as the increasing number of data centres is causing environmental concerns.

Christian Ulbrich, JLL CEO, says: “Commercial buildings generate about 40 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s developed countries. If you want to limit greenhouse gases, buildings must be part of the solution.”

While supermassive companies such as Apple and Google have more money than they need to reconstruct Earth’s environment to suit their requirements and build data centre infrastructures which run on green energy sourced from wind and solar farms, the vast majority of data centres run on the traditional power supply, which generally burn fossil fuels.

And although individual data centres themselves have little or no influence on the energy infrastructure of the country in which they are located, what they do have control over is how efficient they can make their data centres.

The more money they save, the more profit they make.

So, the market in energy-efficient data centre products has been growing accordingly, with various companies releasing products that promise to use less electricity.

Just today, for example, Schneider Electric has launched a new data centre cooling solution that it claims can save 15 to 20 per cent in energy costs.

The Ecoflair Indirect Air Economizer is a prefabricated, modular solution, available in 250 kW and 500 kW sizes for cloud and colocation data centres.

John Nieman, director of product management, cooling solutions at Schneider Electric, says: “Modularity together with a proprietary polymer heat exchanger are key to the success of Ecoflair.

“Its tubular design prevents fouling that commonly happens with plate style heat exchangers. This minimizes maintenance and impact to performance over the life of the heat exchanger.

“In addition, the polymer is corrosion-proof compared to other designs that use coated aluminium which corrodes when wet or exposed to the outdoor elements. The heat exchanger is also modular making it easily replaced, should it be required, minimizing downtime and inconvenience.”

Schneider provides a usage example: a 1 MW data centre using a traditional efficient chilled-water cooling system would operate at a PUE, or power usage effectiveness, of 1.14 whereas – according to the company – the same facility using an Ecoflair system would reduce PUE to 1.039.

Schneider claims this would result in annual financial savings of €88,000 – as well as greater efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.

The amount of electricity consumed by the IT sector has increased by 6 per cent in the past five years, according Greenpeace, which says the increase is making the need for a green data centre industry stronger than ever before.

The eccentric environmentalist group adds that with an anticipated threefold increase in global internet traffic by 2020, the Internet’s energy footprint is expected to rise further, fuelled by individual consumption of data and by the spread of the Internet from 3 billion to 4 billion people.

The tangle-haired tree-huggers warned of “dangerous climate change” caused by an increasing reliance on “dirty” energy sources.

“If our growing digital infrastructure is built in the opposite direction, locking us into a dramatic increase in the demand for electricity from coal and other dirty sources of energy that are changing our planet’s climate, it will be far more costly and take an unnecessarily longer time to reach a renewably powered economy,” says Greenpeace.

Responding to the Greenpeace report, Roel Castelein, customer services director of the Green Grid, says: “The growth in the amount of data demands that all data centre providers come together, rather than working in silos, and be clear in their use of renewable energy in creating a more sustainable industry.

“Whether it’s meeting government sustainability objectives, using renewable energy as secondary sources, or pushing for stronger connections with energy suppliers, it can all contribute to enhanced efforts in tackling carbon emissions.”