The Green Data Center: 5 Ways Carbon-Intelligent Computing Is the Future

green data center

At this point, most people have heard of climate change and the steps that companies – both big and small – are taking to address this issue. As a whole, companies are looking to become carbon-neutral – that is, the work they do and the services they provide won’t contribute more carbon to our atmosphere. As you might imagine, data centers require a substantial amount of energy. To keep these servers on 24/7, serving content for the entire world to consume, requires a significant amount of electricity. That’s why the leading cloud providers are looking at the concept of a green data center – or a data center that gets its energy from renewable, carbon-free sources.

Here are five reasons why carbon-intelligent computing is a good thing for businesses, why it’s here to stay, and why you should take advantage of these fantastic enhancements for your business.

Related: Data Center Planning and Implementation

1) The Green Data Center Will Make the Biggest Impact on Electricity Usage

According to Swedish researcher Anders Andrae, data centers will be the most significant power consumers of anything in communications technology. They’ll consume more power than cell phones, networks, and TV.

That figure is likely only to get bigger. As cell phones become more power efficient and TVs utilize new technologies to reduce the power draw, data centers will probably require more. Before, you may have had a few standard servers, but now you have GPUs, machine learning computers, and even quantum computers, all within the same data center.

Additionally, more and more enterprises are putting their entire workflows on the cloud. Seldom are people running things on-site. Office software, video conferencing solutions, and more are all cloud-based now.

Therefore, to make the most significant impact on electricity usage and reduce technology’s carbon footprint, data centers need to use renewable energy sources. As more companies look to reduce their footprint and hit aggressive carbon milestones, leveraging clean energy at the data center level will look more attractive. 

Related: Sustainable Cabling

2) Clean Energy Is Often More Cost-Efficient Now

It used to be the case that clean energy was expensive and challenging for governments and private industries. That has changed significantly recently. Plunging energy prices now mean that, in many places, generating power through wind and solar is less expensive than traditional fossil fuels like coal or oil.

Given that clean energy is often more cost-efficient, it makes sense to optimize computing platforms to leverage the places where clean energy exists. Even if clean energy is not cheaper at this very moment in some parts of the world, projections suggest it will be less expensive in the future.

Therefore, it makes sense to start shifting as much computing as possible to the green data center (or centers) to reduce overall costs. Companies can then pass (some) of those costs on to you. It’s not inconceivable that carbon-efficient computing will likely be the most cost-effective in the future!

Related: What Are Data Center Power Whips (PDUs)?

3) There’s High Demand for This Type of Computing

Carbon-intelligent computing, where companies can select greener data centers to handle their workloads, is in high demand. Companies all over the world are setting carbon targets. Like Google and Microsoft, companies both large and small set aggressive targets for when they will be carbon neutral. 

These targets mean that more and more companies will factor in their computing carbon footprint in those calculations. As more companies become aware, they’ll start asking questions about the data center’s carbon footprint, and having a lower carbon impact will likely become a selling feature.

Ultimately, carbon-intelligent computing is likely going to continue to grow in demand.

4) The Green Data Center Is Fantastic PR

Another reason why carbon-intelligent computing is likely the way of the future is that it makes for fantastic PR pieces. Google recently did an extensive blog post about how they are now doing more computing in places with cleaner energy. These types of PR pieces are fantastic sources of goodwill with customers. They show that they are listening to the needs of our planet and are finding ways to address them.

Over time, as the green data center continues to be the trend, doing computing in climate-friendly locations will likely become the norm. However, for right now, it’s great PR and, if your company elects to use a green data center for computing, you will likely benefit from this PR, as well!

5) Components Are Becoming Much More Energy-Efficient

The push for carbon-intelligent computing is going to be two-fold. First, there’s a push to have energy come from renewable sources. However, renewable sources can sometimes yield less power overall than non-renewables. Unfortunately, coal, oil, gas, and nuclear power all produce very high amounts of consistent energy. Wind turbines and solar work well, but the power can be less when the clouds are out, or the wind is still. In addition, building large solar farms or numerous wind turbines can take up quite a bit of land.

Therefore, there’s a second push going on to make electronics more energy-efficient themselves. The most obvious place where this is happening is the push from X64 to ARM processors. ARM is significantly less power-hungry than the Intel and AMD chips that preceded it. Eventually, that same push will come to graphics cards and machine learning hardware. Apple is already claiming that its M1 chips outperform introductory-level graphics chipsets.

As components and batteries continue to become much more energy-efficient, it opens up doors for power sources. If data centers no longer need quite the same energy level, the question isn’t if they should go green, but when? In other words, if the components themselves no longer need the same energy levels, why not take advantage of the less costly energy sources?

The Green Data Center Is the Future

The green data center is the future of computing. All the big players in this space, including Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, are setting carbon goals. They want to be carbon-neutral or carbon-negative within the next decade. One of the ways these companies will achieve these goals is to make their data centers greener!

Indeed, going green is not just great PR or meeting demand; it’s fantastic business because it is cost-efficient and helps improve component efficiency, as well. Carbon-intelligent data centers are the future. If you haven’t already, you may wish to look at incorporating carbon-efficient computing into your existing workflows!

The Environmental Impact of Today’s Data Centers

What makes a data center so environmentally unfriendly, anyway? Understanding the core of this issue is how you make better business decisions in the future.

The average data center is in a constant state of being repaired, improved, and recycled. There’s plenty of room to improve these day-to-day processes to whittle down waste and save money. Recent studies have found just 35% of data centers will recycle hardware in-house instead of using a third party.

Did you know data centers produce around 0.3% of all global emissionsWhile that may not seem like much, the growing demand for larger data centers means this number will keep increasing. Businesses around the world are becoming more scrutinizing about who they create partnerships with, so going green will save you a lot of money down the line.

Let’s take a look at the business goals you should implement for 2023 and beyond…

Goal #1: Recycle Waste More Efficiently

As we touched on above, recycling waste more efficiently is a key feature your data center should have. It’s not enough to simply throw away unwanted supplies: they need to go to the right place at the right time.

While some data centers collaborate with recycling programs to efficiently and safely dispose of waste, others simply send their trash to landfills. Less than 35% of all waste is properly composted and recycled, leaving the rest to fester in environmentally unsustainable dumps.

The most common waste tossed by data centers includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Hard drives
  • Monitors
  • Batteries
  • Laptops
  • Servers

Since many of these materials use plastic and battery power, they’re unable to biodegrade on their own. Start tallying up the monthly waste your business generates and take these figures to a waste recycling facility.

Goal #2: Clean Energy Sources

Fossil fuels are fast becoming a relic of the past. Solar, wind, hydro, and water are more affordable in the long run while causing less damage to the environment. 

Green data centers, just like any other technology-focused business, have to go the extra mile to reduce environmental damage. Ongoing studies have shown that cutting into fossil fuel emissions is an absolute must going forward. More specifically, fossil fuel consumption must be reduced by 3% every year to avoid the worst possible climate change scenarios.

Most data centers today use unsustainable energy sources such as:

  • Coal
  • Natural gas
  • Old battery systems

Wondering which businesses are putting their money where their mouth is? Apple recently released a statement showcasing the company’s commitment to cleaner energy sources. They state that, by the time 2030 rolls around, all of their products will be made with zero carbon emissions. They also will focus on recyclable materials, which will be expanded on later in this list.

Goal #3: Improving Back-Up Generators

No data center is complete without a solid backup generator system. When just one hour offline can cost thousands of dollars, it pays to be careful.

Sadly, data center backup generators aren’t always friendly to the environment. Many of them still run on coal or natural gas, spitting out harmful carbon emissions that contribute to harmful weather patterns. The good news is that backup generators can easily be switched over to more sustainable models.

Solar power isn’t the best choice for backup generators due to the sheer volume needed to maintain a data center. Wind power is proving much more promising, able to provide a reliable source of electricity through the use of wind farms. Google is just one of many major corporations making the shift away from carbon emissions.

Related: Environmental Monitoring Systems: Best Practices

When it comes to going green, consistency is key. We at C&C Tech deliver value to businesses through hard experience and a commitment to growth.

Goal #4: Effective Cooling Methods

Data centers are unable to run in everyday environments. While a home PC is able to hold up to a slight temperature change, data centers are far more finicky.

Effective cooling methods are a must-have change for any data center that wants to go green. The average data center uses a mixture of hot aisle containment and cold aisle containment to keep its hardware running consistently. The sheer volume of heat generated by electricity and rotating fans means overheating is a constant concern to be addressed.

Where does all this heat go? With the aid of complex cooling units, air will be circulated in and out of the data center to maintain temperature. While this is quite effective in the short term, it’s notoriously damaging to the environment. Home air conditioners are one of the biggest concerns for climate change, so you can easily imagine how data centers multiply that damage significantly.

Learning how to cool a server room properly may take time, but it’ll be well worth the effort.

Related: Server Room Temperature: Guide To Important Ranges

Goal #5: Reducing E-Waste Production

What is e-waste, anyway? Unlike traditional forms of rubbish, e-waste is a term denoting electronics that are nearing the end of their lifecycle. 

As touched on above, data centers create a unique cycle of waste that isn’t easy to recycle. Unlike food items or paper, data center e-waste is often unable to biodegrade and needs a specialized system to dispose of properly. Not only can the disposal of these products contribute to carbon emissions, but they can also harm animal and plant life.

Other forms of e-waste a data center can produce include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Cables
  • Mice
  • Cameras
  • Answering machines
  • Clocks

Related: Data Center Cabling Best Practices Guide [2023]

Goal #6: Avoid Greenwashing Habits

Going green isn’t a trend: it’s a new way of life. Some businesses struggle with this reality and resort to greenwashing, a form of marketing that makes lofty promises without hard action.

A recent study analyzing the sentiments of Gen Z found climate change to be the demographic’s number one concern about the future. This perspective superseded employment and education. Sadly, greenwashing has resulted in many buyers becoming distrustful and suspicious of businesses. Data centers are no different.

When seeking out improvements to your business model, resist the urge to overpromise and overshare. Only present the changes that have already been made and be conservative about changes that will take more time.

Goal #7: Reach Out to Qualified Businesses for Help

This second-to-last goal ties all of the previous goals together. No data center exists in a void: asking for qualified help is one of the smartest business decisions you can make.

Seek Out a Recycling Facility to Reduce E-Waste

It’s time to implement a new recycling method for your data center. Instead of shipping your unwanted materials to landfills or unverified third parties, seek out a local recycling facility.

Landfills are a major health hazard, contributing to climate emissions through either rotting or being burned. Recycling facilities have procedures and technology in place to safely dispose of plastic, glass, paper, various metals, and batteries. 

Committing to a recycling facility will help the environment and save your business money. Some recycling facilities can provide you with tax write-offs for the depreciation of recycling equipment. Check in with your state tax requirements to see if you can take advantage of local recycling laws.

After you collaborate with a recycling facility, you can then promote your efforts through your marketing strategy:

Refine Your Marketing Strategy to Eliminate Greenwashing

Marketing is the foundation of a modern business. This resource ensures you find the right people in a timely fashion so you can remain competitive in the long term.

Marketing professionals will ensure you avoid common greenwashing pitfalls in your press releases or blogging strategy. They will provide you with essentials such as:

  • Response management
  • Press releases
  • Social media marketing strategies

Do you have a company newsletter? Consider asking your marketing professionals how to implement one and keep your customers coming back for more. Do you have a blog? Nearly 80% of bloggers today state their blog delivers strong inbound marketing results.

Your marketing strategy is a constant stream of communication between your brand and your consumer base. Honesty is the best policy!

Seek Out a New Source of Energy

Seeking out a new source of energy is one of the longest steps to implement. This change will significantly alter your data center from the ground up, but it’s worth the effort.

While solar power isn’t considered sustainable for data centers yet, wind power is showing serious promise. Do some research into sustainable energy sources in your area and learn how you can start shifting over from diesel fuel or coal.

Goal #8: Switch to Hybrid or Remote Work Models

Last but not least, your business should consider hybrid or remote work models. Data centers operate on lightning-fast information, the vast majority of which can be done digitally.

While the pandemic has sped up remote work models, it’s not the originator. Remote work has fast been rising in favor among workers for its ability to deliver more benefits for less money. Just how fast? A recent survey cited remote work growing at nearly 160%.

Benefits for the worker include (but aren’t limited to):

  • More time to spend with family and friends
  • The ability to socially distance
  • Reduced or eliminated commute

There are several remote work benefits for the tech-savvy business. Expect to enjoy:

  • Lower carbon footprint due to reducing the commute
  • Wider access to workers across the globe
  • Happier, focused worker base 

Have one-on-one discussions with your workers to see what they need to do their job best. The sooner you get comfortable with Zoom calls and email, the sooner your business can start reaping the benefits.

Conclusion

Green data centers and sustainability can seem like a far-off dream. Not only is it incredibly time-consuming to change your business, it’s expensive and tiring.

You’ll be glad you made the change.

Green data centers are destined to become the new normal. The best place to get started with your sustainable business is to break down your current data center into reasonable goals. These sustainable goals should include:

  • Recycling waste more efficiently
  • Installing clean energy sources (such as wind or water power)
  • Swapping out old backup generators for sustainable models
  • Implementing effective cooling methods
  • Reducing e-waste production
  • Avoid greenwashing marketing habits
  • Reach out to qualified businesses for assistance
  • Implement hybrid and remote work models

With the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down and climate change getting worse, 2022 is shaping up to be a challenge. The sooner your business starts changing toward sustainable energy and smarter marketing habits, the better.

Are you ready to give your business a chance at true sustainability? Contact us today to start improving your power, cooling, and racking infrastructure.

Last Updated on January 21, 2023 by Josh Mahan

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