How to reduce the impact of Data Centers on the environment

Data Centers represent a real scourge for the environment. As the production and consumption of data explodes on a global scale, find out what you can do to reduce the energy consumption and environmental impact of data centers…

Technologies such as the Internet of Things, the Cloud, smartphones or artificial intelligence have caused the explosion in the volume of data generated by humanity. According to IDC, this volume will be multiplied by 5 between 2018 and 2025 to reach a total of 175 Zo or 175 billion terabytes.

Clearly, our need for Data Centers is increasing proportionally as it is necessary to store this data. When there were only 500,000 data centres worldwide, there are now more than 8 million of them on Earth… according to IDC.

However, these data centres are in fact a real scourge for the environment. In the United States alone, it is estimated that data centres will consume 73 billion kWh in 2020. In 2016, all centres worldwide would have consumed 416.2 terawatt hours, more than the United Kingdom and its 300 terawatt hours.

And this consumption continues to double every 4 years. By 2030, data centers around the world could be swallowing up 10% of the world’s electricity production compared to 3% at present.

Today, Data Centers alone account for 17% of the technology’s carbon footprint.. With 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions, their carbon footprint is similar to that of the industry’s aviation. And by 2040, data storage could account for 14% of emissions, which is as much as the United States does today.

As Peter Gross of the New York Timeswhich has helped to design hundreds of centres, ” a single data center can consume more energy than a mid-size U.S. city « . A reality that few are aware of, even within the industry.

Remember that data centers are a collection of multiple crammed computers running continuously and at full power. In fact, these computers get very hot. It is necessary to set up cooling systems to prevent overheating and make sure they continue to function.

It is precisely the cooling of these many machines that consumes energy and burns fossil fuels. The Cooling of data centers accounts for about 40% of the energy they consume..

According to researchers at Walsh University, the impact of data centres on the environment is also linked to the fact that cooling systems rely on hazardous chemicals and backup batteries necessary in the event of a power failure. The collection of these battery components from mines is harmful to the Earth, as is the disposal of toxic batteries after use. So data centres are indeed poisonous to the environment.

To this day, however, only half of the world’s population is connected to the internet and therefore contributes to this massive generation of data. As the internet spreads across the planet, the need for data centers will continue to grow at an unbridled pace. The advent of 5G and the growth of encryption are just two more factors that will amplify the problem.

In summary, the technological advances made by mankind are currently going against the interests of the environment. Our technology is gradually accelerating the destruction of our planet and the depletion of its resources. It is therefore urgent and necessary to find solutions to reduce the environmental impact of Data Centers .

Solutions to reduce the environmental impact of Data Centers

Most tech giants are now looking to develop greener, more environmentally friendly Data Centers. Several avenues are being explored, particularly in the field of cooling systems.

More environmentally friendly cooling systems

The simplest solution to prevent overheating of the servers in a data center is to use a cooling system. However, a more environmentally friendly alternative is to build these data centres in countries where the climate is naturally cold..

In 2009, Google chose to open a centre in Hamina, Finland. In May 2019, the American giant announced an additional investment of $600 million in this green project. Within this centre, Servers cooled with freezing seawater as a natural solution. Rainwater is also used for this purpose. Microsoft, for its part, has installed a Data Center under the sea.

Unfortunately, Data Centers must be located as close as possible to users for maximum performance. In addition, more and more countries are requiring that their citizens’ data be stored on servers located on the territory. This is for example the case in Europe with the RGPD. It is therefore It is not possible to build centres only in the coldest countries. of the world.

Nevertheless, since 2014, Google has managed to reduce the energy consumed by its data centres by 50%. compared to the industry average. To achieve this feat, the firm uses highly efficient evaporative cooling solutions, as well as intelligent temperature and lighting controls and customized servers to use as little energy as possible.

For its part, Norwegian data centre operator DigiPlex has promised to use the waste heat from its centre in Ulven, Oslo, to heat 5000 apartments. In France, similar initiatives are being launched by the social backers Paris Habitat and Gironde Habitat who have partnered with Data Centers to heat low-rent housing with the heat they produce.

Another solution is to leave fewer servers active at the same time. In 2014, Facebook has invented a system called Autoscale… to reduce the number of servers turned on during off-peak hours when there is less traffic. This system saves 10 to 15% of energy.

Turning the problem upside down, some seek to Allow servers to continue to operate at higher temperatures.. In fact, cooling requirements are greatly reduced, as is energy consumption.

Green Data Centers powered by renewable energy

In addition to less energy-intensive cooling systems, several companies are looking to use renewable energies such as wind, water and sun to power the data centres. Technologies are also updated or optimized to improve the efficiency of the centers and temperature management.

Apple, for example, has the largest private solar installation and has almost achieved 100% renewable energy for its data centres. Likewise, Facebook’s Iowa Facebook center relies on wind power.

On their side, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft have surpassed the 50% renewable energy target for their respective infrastructures in 2018. Both promise to reach the 100% target as soon as possible.

AI and Robotics to Automate Data Centers

Another avenue being considered is that of artificial intelligence. By analyzing data production, humidity, temperature and other important statistics, AI can find solutions to increase energy efficiency, reduce energy consumption and lower costs. Google uses neural networks to adapt the functioning of its servers. in real time, and these systems learn over time for even greater efficiency.

For several years, researchers and companies have also been turning to robotics to automate data centre operations. In 2013, IBM had already adapted the iRobot Roomba vacuum robot using temperature and humidity sensors to monitor the temperature of its Data Centers.

Scott Noteboom is at the origin of the model of Yahoo’s Compute Coop ultra-efficient data centerand has recently joined the Submer company specialized in immersion as CTO. In the eyes of this expert, the data centers of the future will be fully automated by AI and robotics. In fact, he has developed AI agents capable of monitoring the sound of the generators and hearing any anomaly.

For its part, EdgeConneX has created Regional Data Centers capable of operating autonomously thanks to remote monitoring functionalities, sensors and an “edge operating” system following operations. Human technicians are thus deployed only when needed.

In November 2019, startup TMGcore presented a robotics system called OTTO capable of replacing servers housed in an underwater cooling tank. This system, presented at the SC19 conference in Denver, could offer new possibilities by allowing the advent of fully automated data centers. Such centres would have the advantage of being more efficient, detect and solve problems immediately, and address the problem of the shortage of human experts capable of managing these complexes.

Technology OTTO is based on two-phase immersion cooling. The servers are immersed in a cooling fluid which allows the heat to be dissipated in the form of steam. The cooling tanks are immersed in modular micro-Data Centers.

The robots, created in collaboration with Olympus Controlsare in charge of replacing failing servers. The server is lifted out of the dip tank and placed in an enclosure near the tank where the backup servers are stored. The robotic arm then picks up a backup server and places it in the tank and connects it to the fiber and power supply via a plug-n-play backplane.

This innovative solution has just been presented, but could soon turn the data center industry upside down…. This innovation should first appear in hyperscale centers entirely designed and optimized for robotic management.

Thanks to robotics, it can be expected that the number of technicians capable of managing a centre’s servers will be greatly reduced. In addition, the absence of human staff can allow a complex to operate at higher temperatures and humidity levels. The cooling requirements can therefore be greatly reducedwhich will reduce energy consumption.

New, greener designs

It would also be possible to make the energy use of the Data Centers more efficient. According to a study conducted by Control Up, 77% of servers are over-equipped in hardware and this unnecessarily increases their consumption. One solution to this problem is the pooling of computing resources between servers.

Likewise, disaggregated” system designs offering a modular infrastructure allow partial updates limited to certain components only. Thus, hardware that does not need to be replaced can be preserved. Intel places particular emphasis on disaggregated systems with its latest generation of CPUs.

According to Ian Whitfield, CEO of Red Engineering, the solution could be to design less energy-intensive Data Centers. The latest construction technologies must be used, and the entire supply chain must be influenced in sourcing the necessary materials.

In this way, buildings can be operated, maintained, repaired and renovated in a more environmentally friendly manner. The trend towards building hyperscale data centres should therefore be seen as an opportunity. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, if 80% of US servers were moved to optimized hyperscale complexes, their energy consumption could be reduced by up to 25%..

Companies that cannot afford to open a hyperscale data center can turn to new categories of systems emerging on the market in recent years. New server technologies and data center architectures are designed to maximize resources and efficiency while minimizing energy requirements. These solutions allow rethinking the design and standards of data centers to make them less harmful to the environment.

In conclusion, it is urgent need to mitigate the environmental impact of Data Centers in our global warming world. It is clear that the volume of data generated by humanity will continue to increase over the coming years, and we cannot do without data centres. Fortunately, there are many alternatives for more environmentally friendly data centers and the adoption of these solutions must continue .

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