Environmental friendliness has become a bit less ‘cool’ recently, with governments around the world shying away from commitments to green energy. But with energy costs being up to 30% of a data centre’s overall outgoings, it is clear that energy efficiency and ‘green’ data centres are not just ‘nice to have’. Instead, they are a key way for data centres to reduce costs and attract customers. Here are ten indicators that green data centres are still work-in-progress.

The EU has released the final version of its green data centre planning tool A work-in-progress itself since 2013, RenewIT is a software tool intended to help data centre operators to design sustainable data centres. It supports both energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, and can also be used by operators for benchmarking , and by users to find and compare suitable data centres across Europe.

Technology patented by a Wicklow-based company is being adopted in several other countries. The technology takes the heat generated in a data centre, and uses it to power a co-located facility such as a greenhouse or a factory. It also enables data centres to generate their own power, reducing transmission losses. There are reports suggesting that several big tech companies are interested.

China is also actively moving towards more sustainable data centres. Chinese data centres are estimated to use as much electricity as two European countries combined, with associated environmental and cost implications. They are therefore starting to look into more energy-efficient technology and location. One data centre, for example, has been built beside a large lake for easy access to natural cooling, and Beijing will no longer permit any data centre with an power usage effectiveness rating of more than 1.5 to operate within the city.

Microsoft, Google and Amazon are increasingly using only renewables. Microsoft’s data centres have been entirely powered by renewables since 2014, largely because of its commitment to solar panels at its facilities. Both Amazon and Google are aiming for 100% renewable, either by generating their own energy, or by buying in energy generated from renewables.

Market projections suggest that there will be healthy growth in green data centres. A report on forecasts and trends in the data centre market suggests that green data centres will show healthy growth over the next few years. Western and Northern Europe are ahead of other areas, not least because of the potential for natural cooling in geostable northern areas such as Iceland and Sweden.

While much of the ‘hype’ is about expensive technology or eco-friendly location, there is plenty of ‘small stuff’ that can also make a difference. Relocating to Iceland to use natural cooling may be a media-friendly way to ‘go green’, but there is also plenty that can be done on a smaller scale. In other words, even older data centres can improve their energy efficiency by, for example, optimising airflows and ensuring that cabling does not restrict flow, or introducing variable speed fans to cool only where necessary.

Recent advances in technology mean that servers can tolerate higher temperatures and are more energy efficient. In other words, servers are being designed to require less cooling: to be more energy-efficient without any additional technology. The cooling requirements in data centres can therefore be reduced simply by using newer servers, which are also up to 30% more energy efficient than those over 3 years old.

Understanding is growing that improving energy usage can be about what you store, not how. It does not all have to be about improving the way that servers are kept, or the temperature at which a data centre operates. Changing the way that data is managed—good data governance—can reduce overall demand for server space. And that, in turn, reduces energy requirements.

There is also growing recognition that variable control systems can hugely reduce costs. Sophisticated systems that respond to workload can ensure that cooling is targeted where it is really needed. But sophisticated systems are only part of the equation. Simple solutions like variable control of servers, or putting less-regularly used servers into ‘sleep’ mode, also help to control costs and energy usage.

Sharing progress on greening via social media can help improve perceptions. A good many data centre operators are active on social media. Posting on green issues, including sharing progress, can help to improve perceptions among both data centre operators and potential customers, and even, potentially, increase uptake.

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