Every time we binge watch Game of Thrones or mindlessly scroll through photos of cute puppies on Instagram, we are accessing the heart of the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, the data center.
What is a Data Center?
Data centers are centralized repositories that house computing and support equipment. Corporations and organizations worldwide use this equipment to store, manage, and share information. As the ICT industry continues to grow, so does the demand for large-scale data centers.
These typically unassuming buildings connect companies to the digital world. Data centers include various types of equipment including servers, external storage, and networking systems. This equipment operates continuously at high speeds. And like your Saturday morning Bikram yoga class, data centers are HOT! Thus, data centers need appropriate infrastructure including cooling technology to operate.
All the Energy
It’s not surprising then that data centers require significant energy to operate. According to a study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, it is estimated that historically ICT equipment accounted for as much as 8% of total global energy consumption, and is projected to reach 14% by 2020.
A recent article published in Nature indicates that data centers currently use an estimated 200 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricty per year. This is 1% of the global electricity demand and more than the energy consumption of some countries.
By 2020, the Natural Resources Defense Council has projected that U.S. data center electricty consumption will increase to approximately 140 billion kilowatt-hours annually. This will cost U.S. businesses $13 billion. It means that U.S. data centers would produce nearly 150 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year. Equal to the annual output and pollution of 50 coal-fired power plants.
Data Centers and Carbon Emissions
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), carbon dioxide has been identified as the most anthropogenic — that part produced by human activities — greenhouse gas attributable to global warming. The increase of greenhouse gases due to human activity has altered global and regional climate and weather patterns. Negative impacts include catastrophic weather events, rising sea levels, and increased air pollution.
As the ICT industry continues to boom and the demand for large-scale data centers continues to increase, we need to consider the carbon footprint of these facilities. This isn’t a future issue for companies, it is an immediate concern.
It has been reported that the global carbon footprint of the ICT industry accounts for more than 2% of global carbon emissions. This is comparable to that of the aviation industry’s fuel emissions. By 2020, it is estimated that the ICT industry will account for a maximum of 3.6% of the total global carbon footprint.
Data centers currently contribute an estimated 0.3% to total carbon emissions. By 2020, it is estimated that data centers will account for 45% of the total ICT industry carbon footprint, a 12% increase from 2010.
These alarming statistics have sparked international interest in reducing data center carbon emissions through technological advancements and innovation.
Green Solutions for a Growing Problem
Data centers are a key component of our everyday lives, so what can companies do to save energy?
- Identify idle or useless equipment. That dusty server in the corner? It’s probably only wasting energy and money.
- Virtualize data center equipment. Virtualization allows single physical servers to operate multiple workloads.
- Automate the data center. This includes the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to detect deficiencies and improve the functionality of the data center.
- Explore inventive cooling solutions. Even better, some companies are locating their data centers in cooler climates. This allows the data center to be cooled naturally via outside air.
- Use hyperscale facilities. Hyperscale facilities are scalable data centers that change based on the current needs of the company. These data centers work to maximize efficiency. It has been reported that one server in a hyperscale facility can replace 3.75 servers in a traditional data center.
As our planet continues to warm, it will become increasingly important for companies to consider the energy consumption of their data centers and what that means for the future of our planet. Thanks to innovative solutions, the future of the data center looks good to go green.