Sustainability 

Energy Efficient Data Centers: The Solution, or a Band-Aid?

Post by
Bahar Razaghi
Energy Efficient Data Centers: The Solution, or a Band-Aid?

As the pressures of climate change force regulators and businesses to find ways of reducing their carbon footprint, there’s a growing shift to green data. The ICT sector and its infrastructure are estimated to be responsible for 5% of the world’s CO2 emissions, and that’s estimated to grow to a staggering 14% by 2040.

It’s clear that something needs to be done, but what? For a long time, it seemed like the best solution was to transition to cleaner and more efficient energy systems. A recent report by the IDC supports this, acknowledging the effect that digital waste has on the environment. It presents a schema where computing gets aggregated into larger-scale data centres that are both power-efficient and run on sustainable energy. The report forecasts a possible reduction of up to 1 billion metric tons of CO2 as soon as 2024 through this.

This isn’t a new concept. Hyper efficient technology and renewable energy have long been paraded as a panacea for the problem of carbon emissions -  to the point where the adoption of renewable energy is seen as sufficient for a company to be sustainable and meet its requirements for corporate social responsibility. But Occam’s Razor doesn’t hold true here - the simplest solution isn’t necessarily the right one.

The problem is that data transmission and storage have exploded over the past decade, leading to data centres sprinkled across countries churning coal and consuming electricity to maintain their operations. So it’s understandable that the solution presenting itself takes the form of more efficient data centres running on more sustainable power sources. Each year there are innovations in cooling and heating systems, with increasingly more efficient hardware. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only solution. In fact, there may be a better one.

It’s possible to directly address businesses and individuals’ behaviour by having them take responsibility and manage their data more effectively. As mentioned in a previous article, by Splunk’s estimates, 55% of the data we have is dark data, which means it serves no purpose. When it’s compound that with the fact that the average enterprise has 348TB of data and that 100GB of data translates into 200kg of CO2 emissions, the potential reduction in carbon emissions is significant.

Managing data more effectively might sound more straightforward than it is in reality. With the IT team of businesses often bogged down by their day to day obligations, it’s rarely seen as a priority, particularly when considering the resources that the task would consume.

But there are ways of dealing with dark data and digital waste, even without large teams and IT budgets: data management platforms. Fasade is an example of this - the platform allows for the aggregation of different servers and cloud systems, then audits them, and presents it in a structured form. If you can see a problem, you can fix it, and after using platforms like Fasade, an organization can then delete the redundant or unnecessary files.

However, it would not be correct to say that this is the ideal approach. The right strategy is a combination of both. Technology can make data centres more efficient, and businesses can utilize data management platforms that clean data so that there’s less strain on the data centres themselves. Instead of focusing on one or the other, we should be utilizing both approaches.

It needs to be understood that green data means more than just using green sources of energy - it means restructuring business operations so that the process itself is green, and this includes data management. It’s never to do this, and by doing so, the world becomes more sustainable.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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