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The concept of data center sustainability is revolutionizing the IT industry: Mohammed Atif, Director, Park Place Technologies

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Sustainability in data centers has become a paramount concern in recent years, driven by the escalating use of digital technology and its consequential surge in energy consumption and carbon emissions. To address these challenges, there have been concerted efforts to enhance data center efficiency, curtail energy consumption, and transition to renewable energy sources.

In this editorial interaction with Mohammed Atif, Director, Business Development India, Park Place Technologies, we explore the significance and relevance of adopting sustainable practices in data centers, explore innovative energy-efficient technologies, examine financial incentives for businesses, consider the key factors when choosing between on-premises data centers and third-party colocation facilities, and investigate the shift towards sustainable data centers in India.

Some edited excerpts:

What is the significance and relevance of adopting sustainable practices in data centers?
Sustainability in data centers has been a growing concern in recent years, as the increasing use of digital technology has led to a significant increase in energy consumption and carbon emissions. To address this, there have been efforts to improve the efficiency of data centers, reduce their energy consumption, and shift towards renewable energy sources. Adopting sustainable practices in data centers can help with the following areas of concerns:

Environmental Impact: Data centers use a significant amount of energy, which results in carbon emissions and contributes to climate change. Data centers can dramatically lower their carbon footprint and lessen environmental impact by adopting sustainable practices.

Resource Efficiency: Sustainable practices encourage the effective use of resources including power, water, and cooling systems, reducing waste and maximizing overall energy consumption.

Cost Savings: Since energy expenditures account for a sizable amount of a data center’s operating expenses, implementing energy-efficient solutions can result in considerable long-term cost savings.

Corporate Social Responsibility: Businesses that place a high priority on sustainability demonstrate their dedication to environmental stewardship, which can help them build a positive reputation and draw in environmentally aware clients and investors.

In your view, what are some of the recommended innovative energy-efficient technologies that can be used in modern data centers?
Energy usage has consistently posed challenges for data centers but there are several strategic avenues that organizations can explore to have an energy efficient data center such as:

Upgrading cooling systems: For energy efficient IT hardware within data centers, IT leaders should focus on upgrading cooling systems. Implementing strategies like hot and cold aisle containment can efficiently manage ambient temperatures with minimal overhead, optimizing energy usage. Even in smaller server rooms, prioritizing energy-efficient hardware during procurement, over price and functionality, proves essential for sustainable operations. AI-assisted automatic cooling control is another solution that can be explored which involves leveraging real-time data from sensors to predict consumption patterns and optimize energy use for cooling.

Renewable Energy Integration: A significant step towards energy efficiency is investing in renewable energy sources to power data centers. This commitment aligns with carbon neutrality goals and significantly bolsters sustainability efforts. Collectively, these measures represent a comprehensive approach to fostering innovation and achieving energy efficiency in modern data centers, contributing positively to both the environment and operational cost management.

Edge Computing: With the market, demand, and innovation surging, edge data centers provide an efficient solution to meet the needs of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning applications, Internet of Things (IoT) components, and AR/VR technology. Large data centers are generally inefficient in electricity, carbon emissions, and electronics waste. Smaller, edge data centers benefit from lower energy consumption for cooling compared to their processing output, but sustainability is still a challenge.

Modular and Scalable Design: Modular data centers have the potential for higher energy efficiency compared to traditional, purpose-built counterparts. They also provide the opportunity to incorporate more sophisticated and sustainable features right from the outset. Constructing data centers using modular and scalable design enhances the efficiency of resource distribution, enabling the addition or removal of components as required, thereby minimizing energy wastage.

What are the financial incentives for businesses to invest in sustainable data center strategies?
Businesses have a responsibility to serve as a role model for the moral and ethical way to do business. Sustainable data center strategies are empirically beneficial to the business. Sustainable hardware maintenance services for IT storage, servers and networking hardware, including post-warranty and End of Service Life (EOSL) support services, help keep hardware assets longer. This enables businesses to take advantage of existing technology for longer versus a hardware refresh with all of the technology and packaging this may entail. Sustainable IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) services ensure that hardware will be disposed of safely and securely, with secure data erasure and the provision of compliant documentation to Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment standards (WEEE). This helps businesses do their bit for the circular economy by enabling of the re-use and recycling of parts and systems. Many managed services can be delivered through automation, ensuring a benefit from reduced e-waste. Beyond the cost savings available by procuring pre-owned hardware, businesses will play a part in the circular economy by purchasing fit-for-purpose pre-owned hardware, ensuring their re-use.

What considerations are important when choosing between on-premises data centers and third-party colocation facilities for sustainability?

On-premises data centers are owned and operated by the organization that uses them. This means that the organization is responsible for the entire infrastructure, including the physical space, cooling, power, bandwidth, and security. On-premises data centers offer the highest level of control and security, but they can also be the most expensive and complex to manage.

Conversely, colocation is the practice of housing privately-owned servers or networking equipment in a third-party data center. So rather than infrastructure being on-site, businesses “co-locate” equipment by renting out space in a remote facility, or colocation center. In this scenario, businesses typically purchase their own equipment including servers, storage, and firewalls, but pay a colocation provider for the space, cooling, power, bandwidth, and physical security provided to them. Furthermore, with colocation the individual is responsible for setting up and configuring their server and maintains ownership of all hardware/software settings for the equipment going forward.

The best choice for an organization will depend on its specific needs and requirements. Organizations that need the highest level of security and control may prefer to use an on-premises data center. Organizations that are looking for a more cost-effective option may prefer to use colocation.

Have you seen a marked shift of organizations preferring data centers that advocate sustainable practices in India?

According to rating agency ICRA, the capacity of the Indian data center industry is slated to rise by a factor of five, with 3,900–4,100 MW of capacity, including investments of Rs. 1.05–1.20,000 crore, to be added during the next five years. Sustainability in Indian data centres has been a growing concern in recent years, as the increasing use of digital technology has led to a significant increase in energy consumption and carbon emissions. To address this, there have been efforts to improve the efficiency of data centres, reduce their energy consumption, and shift towards renewable energy sources. In 2024, sustainability in data centres in India is likely to continue to be a priority for many companies and organizations. As more businesses rely on cloud computing and digital services, there will be an even greater need to reduce the environmental impact of data centres.

What potential future trends or technological advancements could further enhance data center sustainability?

The concept of data center sustainability is revolutionizing the IT industry, ushering in a wave of transformative changes that have far-reaching implications. By prioritizing data center sustainability, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to mitigating environmental impact, fostering social responsibility, and ensuring the preservation of our shared future. Here are some ways in which advanced technologies are contributing to data center sustainability:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML): AI and ML technologies are increasingly being used in data centers to optimize energy consumption, improve cooling systems, and predict equipment failures. These technologies can help data centers operate more efficiently and reduce energy consumption, ultimately leading to cost savings and sustainable operations.

Internet of Things (IoT): IoT technology is being used in data centers to monitor and control energy consumption, temperature, humidity, and other parameters in real-time. By leveraging IoT, data centers can optimize energy usage and reduce waste, which ultimately leads to better efficiency.
Advanced cooling systems: Cooling systems are a significant energy consumer in data centers. Advanced cooling technologies, such as liquid cooling and direct evaporative cooling, are being used to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency.

Automation: Data centers are complex systems that require constant monitoring and management. Automation technologies, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and orchestration platforms, are being used to streamline data center operations, reduce manual intervention, and improve efficiency.

Renewable energy sources: The use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, can help reduce the carbon footprint of data centers and increase their efficiency. Advanced technologies are being used to integrate renewable energy sources into data center operations, which can lead to significant cost savings and environmental benefits.

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