How can businesses create greener data centers?

Inside a data center.
(Image credit: Future)

Technology companies have an obligation to set benchmarks and run in a way that builds a positive environment for employees, society and the global ecosystem.

About the author

Ian Jeffs is General Manager at Lenovo Infrastructure Group.

Enterprise decision makers need to balance the growing demand for IT with rising expectations around environmentally responsible operations. Here are five ways organizations can improve the sustainability of data centers and make them greener.

Limit the impact data has on resources

Data is growing at an exponential rate. While the potential utility of data makes it a powerful asset, not accounting for its growth can quickly turn it into a liability. Currently, around 1% of global electricity is used to power data centers and as we progress towards a world where data is projected to grow to 463 exabytes created every day by 2025, electricity consumption could multiply rapidly.

The energy impact goes beyond just electrical. Data management can have ramifications on another key resource, water. According to a US Government report, a data center will need on average around 1.8litres of water for every kWh consumed, predominantly for air conditioning purposes. That is a huge amount that will only increase when the reliance on data becomes even greater. This means that companies need to start adopting processes that drastically reduce their levels of water consumption.

As part of the process of reducing resource consumption, enterprises also need to consider how they manage the infrastructure that underpins their operations. Moving from wasteful legacy IT models towards infrastructure built with energy efficiency in mind is a positive first step. For example, liquid cooling technology can reduce energy consumption by up to 40% in larger data centers, whilst maintaining uncompromised performance.

Create circular economies

For any company involved in IT management, the notion of the circular economy has taken on greater importance. This seeks to reduce the use of materials and energy in manufacturing products and then recover as much of the end products as possible through reuse and recycling.

The data center industry is one where many thousands of servers and other pieces of hardware are deemed to be ‘end of life’ each year. To reduce the risk of environmentally damaging waste, the industry needs to set a high bar in terms of recycling, reusing or repairing 100% of equipment, to stop it from ending up as landfill.

In our operations, we practice a ‘Design-Use-Return’ model to cover everything from products and packaging, manufacturing and operations and product take-back and value recovery. This includes services such as Lenovo Asset Recovery Services (ARS), which ensures responsible asset recovery and data disposal.

Set aggressive targets

Becoming a sustainable business requires accountability. This is achieved by holding yourself to high standards and making a commitment to stakeholders. Once you publicly set targets, there’s no backing out.

Another way of achieving this is to commit to industry-recognized sustainability initiatives. These help to raise the bar for all organizations and encourage those that commit to review and adapt their operations in line with their obligations. One example is the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). This is the first ever science-based Net-Zero Standard for emissions reduction, created to combat the current inconsistencies that surround net-zero targets and enable consistent measurement and evaluation of a company’s emissions reduction.

Measure progress

Given that data center operations can often dominate all IT energy consumption, it’s vital for today’s enterprises to get measurement under control. The range of metrics that can be tracked, such as water usage, electric consumption and use of renewable energy, offer wide avenues for energy savings. Understanding how you’re measuring environmental efforts and what metrics you need to see moving in the right direction will help to show whether you are really making progress.

Optimize supply chains

Equipment failures rely on robust supply chain management to replenish inventories. It is important from a business continuity perspective. It also helps ensure energy efficient logistics and reduce the risk of wasted energy. Companies are looking to their supply chains to drive sustainability to cut costs, strengthen business and mitigate environmental risks. 

This includes incorporating transport methods such as trains in place of planes and reducing the distance that products travel. By distributing production to more local facilities, companies can cut the number of steps and dependencies required to get the product from factory to customer and lower the fuel consumption required as a result.

A greener future

Over the past ten years, sustainability has been an increasingly important topic and has been a focus for all industries. This has been further amplified by sustainability demands from customers, commitments such as the Paris Agreement, and climate change news. Post Covid-19, enterprises need to incorporate sustainability into the heart of their data centers. This will help with the goal of zero-emission computing, benefit society and businesses will be rewarded by their customers.

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Ian Jeffs is General Manager at Lenovo Infrastructure Group.