Data Centers: How They Become a Green Alternative

During the pandemic, the digital transformation of businesses increased rapidly as most transactions shifted online. Companies became data-centered and data-driven, gathering and creating more data for processing, analysis, and use in the supply chain, operations, marketing, customer service, and other business aspects. Daily workflows halt when the system goes offline, and the flow of data stops. Businesses must, therefore, have continuity plans for outages.

On-site Servers

Many businesses still have a server room containing vital information technology (IT) infrastructure. Even if most of their services have migrated to a data center in the Cloud, many still prefer to maintain hybrid infrastructure. This adds a level of security and enables them to be resilient.

These server rooms require power protection like an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). A business should hire a service provider that provides a complete package, including systems for emergency lighting, energy management, a power generator on standby, backup battery, and server room UPS solutions and upgrades. Choose a vendor that also provides energy efficiency audits and adjustments, preventative maintenance, repair and support services, and round-the-clock emergency assistance.

Cloud Services

Many businesses have opted to move fully to cloud services. This led to the creation of large data centers around the world servicing businesses big and small. They can choose the more expensive but secure private cloud services or more affordable public cloud services that are secure and enable scalability with faster deployment of IT resources. In public cloud services, several businesses share infrastructure and IT services from a single provider.

The Carbon Footprint of Data Centers

Data centers have a huge environmental impact, which continues to increase as more data is being produced and processed. Data Center Dynamics states that data centers use up about 200 terawatt-hours of electricity a year. Forbes cites data from the International Energy Agency that this is equivalent to almost one percent of electricity demand worldwide and contributes 0.3 percent to total carbon emissions worldwide.

Sustainable Data Center: Microsoft’s Initiative

Forbes acknowledges the value of using sustainable energy sources and collaborating with environmentally compliant vendors in data centers. It cites how Amazon has recently become the largest global corporate buyer of sustainable energy, with new solar and wind projects added each year.

In June, Microsoft announced that it would be using the sustainable Evolution Diesel Plus in the emergency generators at its new cloud data center, Microsoft Azure,  in Sweden. The fuel includes tall oil, which is a byproduct in the production of paper and forestry. It is made by Preem, an energy company in Sweden, in collaboration with Caterpillar. The eco-fuel can also work in all vehicles with diesel engines with half the carbon emissions of petroleum-based diesel.

This is a step in Microsoft’s journey toward becoming carbon negative. At this point, eliminating diesel fuel is difficult because of the huge investment of Microsoft as well as its data center vendors in diesel-powered generators. Using Evolution Diesel Plus will be a transition. Although only one percent of the overall emissions from Microsoft are from diesel fuel, reducing its dependence on traditional diesel for its generators already makes a difference.

This is just one of the many steps in Microsoft’s sustainability agenda. In 2014, the company announced plans to use a water treatment plant’s biogas waste to fuel parts of its operations in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 2017, Microsoft partnered with McKinstry and Cummins in Seattle to build an Advanced Energy Laboratory that used natural gas to power fuel cells for servers with 20 racks.

In Utah in 2020, the company proved that diesel generators can be replaced by fuel cells in a data center during a power outage that did not reach 48 hours. It used a hydrogen-powered 250-kilowatt fuel cell system to run Microsoft Azure cloud servers with ten racks for 48 hours. In March 2021, Microsoft collaborated with the French Total energy company and Saft, its subsidiary battery specialist, to evaluate the possibility of using large batteries as long-term power backups for vital infrastructure.

The Right Utilization of Computers

Forbes highlights another area where energy efficiency is still much needed, and this is in the widespread under-utilization of computers. A survey shows that among 100 companies that spend almost a million dollars every year on cloud computing, more than 50 percent use only 20 to 40 percent of their computers. When servers are partially idle, they continue to use up significant volumes of energy, run up costs, and contribute substantially to carbon emissions.

Improving cooling systems, updating servers, and using new processors will resolve this problem by boosting computing power while maintaining energy consumption. Software powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can also help manage infrastructure, maximize the use of computers, and save much energy while using fewer processors to do the same or even more computing tasks. With enhanced performance, any increase in data traffic will no longer cause spikes in energy usage.

There is still much to do to make data centers reach optimum energy efficiency. But the ideas are here, and concrete action is underway.

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