How data centres are balancing growth with sustainability
Data centres are the backbone of the digital economy. Enterprises, governments and end-users all depend on data to host, process, analyse and access data.
But no matter how near to zero a firm’s carbon footprint might be, data centres are currently regarded the weakest link in the sustainability chain – and for good reason.
Data centres currently account for 1% of global electricity consumption today while the World Economic Forum estimates that digitisation generates between 1.4% and 5.9% of global greenhouses. And, the more firms transform digitally, the larger the greenhouse emissions, with the WEF estimating that by 2025, global data generation could well have doubled.
So how are data centres meeting the challenge of continuous digital growth while remaining sustainable at the same time?
Data centre vendor Pure Storage for one, hopes to have halved its internal (scope one and two) emissions by the end of this decade and hopes to achieve net zero on its internal emissions by 2040.
“We think we can do better than that over time,” adds the firm’s CTO Alex McMullan.
Data centres to net zero
To achieve this, the Californian firm has pledged to deliver more reliable products with a longer service lifetime, reduce energy usage without compromising performance and by providing storage solutions with energy efficiency guaranteed.
“There is a range of things we’re looking at hardware and software-wise which will give us an accretive number of about 300% reduction, we think in the next couple of years,” estimates McMullan.
Drilling into detail, Pure’s arrays, which are storage hardware with dense flash memory drives (which are more efficient than usual arrays made with spinning disks, according to Pure), can be upgraded, rather than replaced, if a customer needs to expand their storage needs.
This “upgrade in-place” speeds up data migration time – something that usually takes months or years or requires two lots of data storage running at the same time while the migration takes place.
“We engineered our architecture to be modular and always upgradeable with Evergreen Storage, greatly increasing its usable life and so reducing e-waste,” adds James Petter, VP and general manager at Pure Storage.
The consistent upgrades also mean that arrays are not replaced and then thrown away – in fact, according to its report, Pure still has 97% of its arrays from six years ago.
This helps both Pure and its customers meet sustainability goals, and can also lower “greenhouse gas emissions by 84% compared to competing all-flash systems with equivalent configurations,” says Petter.
Customers using its storage services are also given a window into how much energy they’re using through its data centres through Pure Storage’s ‘Pure1 Sustainability Assessment.’
‘Pure1’ provides a greenhouse gas emissions monitor, assesses how customers can improve, and then provides guidance.
Pure has also embarked on several environmental initiatives over the last two years, such as procuring energy from its green suppliers in over 60% of its data centres, according to Petter.
“And partnering with our supply chain manufacturers to design more efficient processes,” he adds.
Pure also considers a sustainability criteria when choosing new office spaces, so making sure the buildings have renewable energy availability, LED lighting, water efficiency infrastructure, accessible public transportation, recycling and more.
With this, Pure claims that it is on track to be scope one and two carbon neutral by 2040 and hopes to hit a 66% reduction in scope threes (indirect emissions through its value chain) by 2030.
“The good news is every customer we have will naturally absorb these benefits as they are deployed,” says McMullan.
Greater Anglia embarks its data with Pure
One of Pure’s customers, British train operator Greater Anglia, is hoping to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, alongside the rest of the UK’s transport industry.
“As part of our franchise, we’ve taken certain steps to go on that journey,” says Himesh Patel, head of IT service delivery at Abellio Greater Anglia.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve reduced our emissions by about 21%, which is almost equated to 25,000 tonnes of CO2,” he adds.
While these reductions have predominantly come from using renewable energy Patel said that the biggest project over the last 18 months has been introducing new energy-efficient trains.
The energy-efficient trains include a regenerative braking system, which means any energy from braking is fed back into the supply chain rather than being wasted through heat.
“The trains are also quite complex because they have energy metres on them so we can now start to analyse the data that’s coming off the trains from an edge perspective,” Patel added.
At the moment, Greater Anglia is embarking on its transformative data journey, “with a lot more sensors to measure air quality, water metres, and energy metres everywhere – and it’s about bridging all that data together”.
He adds that “now is the perfect opportunity to redesign our infrastructure, looking at modern technology where we can, while also being wary of the carbon footprint we leave behind”.
In terms of upgrades, Patel doesn’t like to think about what’s going to happen to the legacy tech: “Where’s it all going to go? Is it going to go to a landfill?”
“Whereas with the Pure Model, you know it’s upgradeable,” assures Patel.
With Pure, Greater Anglia can also forecast and allow the growth of data while also being assured that it is being done sustainably.
For Pure Storage, transparency is key, and so being able to tell a customer how energy efficient its product is.
“Everybody’s now desperately greenwashing their inefficiency,” says McMullan. “We want to get to a point where there is one standard the industry agrees to, that is actually fair for everyone, that is most importantly transparent and reliable.”
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