By Sanjay Agrawal, Head Presales and CTO at Hitachi Vantara, India and SAARC
In 1987, the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting today’s needs without harming the ability of future generations.” Four pillars underpin the true meaning of sustainability: social, economic, human and environmental. These elements are intertwined, with social equity fostering economic stability, while eco-conscious practices protect the environment. Their harmonious balance is crucial for a resilient global community.
This resonated with the recent G20 Summit declaration, which endorsed tripling global renewable energy capacity and set the imperative for emissions to peak by 2025. It also established a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by 43% by 2030, compared to 2019 levels. In addition, it highlighted a broad sustainability agenda, including the mainstreaming of Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE), sustainable energy transitions and preserving the ocean-based economy, etc.
According to McKinsey & Co., sustainability has now become one of the top 10 priorities for CEOs worldwide, with more than 75 percent recognising it as a significant differentiator. Amid the urgency to combat climate change, Information Technology (IT) emerges as a vital player in advancing sustainability.
Examining the impact of data centre emissions
At the heart of IT’s sustainability challenges lie the data centres. These sprawling servers and networking equipment are the backbone of our digital world, enabling us to store, process and access vast amounts of data around the clock.
But data centres are conspicuous for energy consumption, and consequently, a large carbon footprint today. The constant need for cooling, powering servers and maintaining redundancy creates a significant demand for electricity.
Powering sustainable data centres today
Solutions to address the environmental impact posed by data centres necessitate a nuanced approach. Key strategies involve the enhancement of energy efficiency, the adoption of renewable energy sources, the optimisation of cooling infrastructure and the implementation of sophisticated data centre management practices. These measures help in mitigating the carbon footprint associated with data centres, all the while ensuring the sustained growth of our digital landscape.
Viewing IT as a catalyst for change
Here’s how the IT industry has been working towards improving the energy efficiency of data centres:
1. Fuelling data centres with renewable energy: Many IT giants are leading the charge in adopting renewable energy sources to power their data centres. Tech companies have invested heavily in solar, wind and hydroelectric power to offset their carbon emissions, making significant strides toward sustainability.
2. Using centralised data centres and enabling eco-friendly cloud computing: The rise of cloud computing has enabled a more efficient use of computing resources. By consolidating data and applications in centralised data centres, cloud providers can optimise their energy use, leading to a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional on-premises data centres.
3. Transforming data centres with energy efficiency: Innovations in server design, cooling technologies and data centre management have led to substantial reductions in energy consumption per unit of computing power. Floor space optimisation sharpens operational efficiency and resource allocation within the confines of physical space, preserving functionality and harmony.
4. Adopting sustainable measures, such as carbon offsets and tree planting: Beyond energy efficiency and renewable energy adoption, the IT sector is actively engaged in sustainability initiatives, including carbon offset programmes, tree planting and waste reduction efforts.
5. Smarter IT infrastructure and data management: IT initiatives to improve system utilization through technologies like Virtualization, Consolidation, Data reduction etc help reduce the IT system footprint in the Data Center. Additionally managing and governing data efficiently avoids unnecessary consumption of data infrastructure. Sustainability is achieved through efficient management of data copy, Dark Data, retention policy, aggregated data, reports etc. that helps reduce data footprint.
Data Ops is the nexus where IT and building facilities converge for operational excellence. The integration through Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) solutions fosters efficiency, reliability, and sustainability within data centre operations.
6. Assessing AI’s contribution to sustainability: AI is a catalyst for sustainability, driving innovation in resource management, emissions reduction, and environmental monitoring. It optimises energy consumption, enhances waste management and aids in climate modelling. AI-driven solutions empower industries to make data-informed decisions that reduce their ecological footprint. From smart grids to precision agriculture, AI contributes to a more sustainable future by efficiently tackling complex environmental challenges.
In the pursuit of a sustainable future, IT’s role is both complex and multifaceted. While data centre emissions remain a significant challenge, it’s essential to recognise the industry’s progress and potential for positive change. By improving efficiency, embracing renewable energy and promoting sustainable practices, we can harness the power of IT to create a greener, more sustainable world.