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Sustainable Infrastructure is Key to Environmental Stewardship

Sustainable Infrastructure is Key to Environmental Stewardship

sustainable infrastructure

Northern Virginia’s Aligned Ashburn data centre. (Photo: Aligned)


This edition of Voices of the Industry features Phill LawsonShanks, Chief Innovation Officer at Aligned, discussing why a sustainable data center infrastructure is so important for a sustainable future.

sustainable infrastructure

Phill Lawson-Shanks Chief Innovation Officer, Aligned

If you look at the highly efficient data centers run by the largest hyperscale companies in the world, it is easy to believe there has been significant progress in sustainability and efficiency over the past five-ten years. Despite the fact that the world’s largest companies providing cloud computing, content, and other internet services operate their data centers efficiently, energy efficiency across legacy infrastructure has remained relatively flat for many years.

While power usage effectiveness (PUE), has not improved much since 2013, overall energy efficiency for IT has improved because more work is being produced at larger, more efficient facilities, such as cloud and hyperscale data centers. PUE can be calculated by dividing power entering a data centre by power used to operate its computing infrastructure. This is a ratio. Overall efficiency increases as the quotient decreases towards 1.

Total energy use for a data center is the energy consumed by servers and facility overhead functions such lighting, heating, cooling, and heating. PUE would be 1.0 in an ideal scenario, meaning that all power consumed by a server is being used for its power. The Uptime Institutes 11th Annual Global Data Center Survey found that in 2021 the average annualized legacy center was 1.57. This is slightly less than 2020’s average 1.59 and consistent with the overall trend towards stagnation in PUE over the past five year. Compare these numbers with the average PUE of all Google data centres, which is reported to be 1.10.

Another concern is that, despite the increasing threat of water shortages, only half of organizations have collected water usage data for their IT or data center operations. Many of the data centers that we see today still reflect the limitations and needs of legacy computing environments from decades ago.

Digital Services Demand is Hotter than July

Not long ago, the data center industry was not able to make environmentally conscious energy decisions. Today, sustainability is a core corporate value. Investors and consumers from a variety of industries are increasingly urging organizations to be more responsible stewards.

However, even so-called “green” data centers may not be able to run entirely on renewable power in the near future due to their high energy use and 24/7/365 workloads that demand constant connection to local and reliable power sources. While having access to renewable power options is a key criterion for the selection of data center locations for expansions and new builds, there are still other sustainability challenges. There are many challenges to be faced when accommodating high, mixed and variable density environments. Many data center models fail to do this, leading to stranded space and power. Hot climates pose a significant challenge because cooling systems are often a large portion of total data center energy consumption. This can have a significant impact on OpEx.

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Design is the first step to true sustainability

These and other reasons make sustainable data centers possible. The design and creation of the platform are key. The platform design should be dynamic to allow for varying density and computing needs. This will enable it to provide greater business value while using less energy and infrastructure resources. It is important to make the most of your data center assets and not let idle systems consume electricity. A highly efficient data center must be capable of supporting high, mixed, and variable densities without stranding capacity or creating inefficiencies. It also should be able to handle variable power draws.

Overcooling is still a common method of addressing hot spots and varying densities in legacy layouts. It is very inefficient and expensive to push cold air into a data hall, rather than removing heat at its source. A cooling technology that uses less energy and consumes less heat, and can run waterless as needed, is an effective way of reducing resource usage and mitigating environmental impacts. It also addresses the need to manage varying power density. This is a significant advantage for customers who need to establish a new availability area in a region that is not naturally temperate or large enterprises that require a Phoenix data center presence, where temperatures can reach 115°F in July.

A shared vision of a sustainable future

We are living in an extraordinary period in the history and evolution of the internet. It is a period that has seen society and business undergo digital transformation in a matter of days, not two or three years. As we immerse ourselves in the next wave, IoT-enabled devices and autonomous vehicles, augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), as well as smart city systems and applications, there is no doubt that business and society will still be dependent on data and data centres.

Therefore, organizations must take advantage of every energy efficiency opportunity available to them today and tomorrow. This includes adaptable data centers that can scale seamlessly to meet their unpredictable growth models and usage patterns. Sustainable infrastructure is essential for the data center industry and our customers.

Phill LawsonShanks is Chief Innovation Officer Aligned. ContactYou can learn more about their adaptive, sustainable approach to data center management.

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