Powering the data centers of tomorrow

As a result of the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) in everyday life, there has been an unprecedented rise in demand for data centers. This is especially so in Southeast Asia where the access to the internet and connectivity has risen over the years.

Due to the rising affluence of the 650 million populous in the region, it is estimated that the digital data generation will create at least 3.7 trillion gigabytes of data by the end of 2020. This is driving substantial growth in the data center industry which, according to research by TechNavio, is expected to reach US $359 million by 2020.

To cater to the demands of an “always-on” generation, data centers need to be fully operational 24 hours a day, every single day of the week. Massive amounts of energy are being consumed. In Singapore alone, data centers account for nearly 10 percent of the country’s energy consumption with projections to hit 12 percent by 2030 due to the nation’s endeavor to establish itself as the data center hub of the Asia Pacific region. Many people know about the existence of data centers and how they support Big Data, IoT and Smart Cities; however, very little is discussed about the impact that these data centers have on the environment.

The data center of tomorrow is one that is truly sustainable. Now more than ever, there need to be critical discussions taking place within the industry to ensure the implementation of solutions that protect the sanctity of the environment that we live in. This requires using materials and processes aimed at minimizing the facility’s impact on both human and environmental health. This is where companies have to make sure that every component in the data center does as little damage as possible to human health and the natural world.

Three trends in the sustainable data centers of tomorrow are fast emerging:

Rising (sustainability) standards

Green data centers are starting to become the new industry standard instead of a once far-away ideal concept. Governments have recognized the importance of this and are said to be the main drivers of this growth. In Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has partnered with other government agencies and the industry to develop a set of performance metrics for data centers to measure their energy efficiency – Singapore Standard SS 564 Green Data Centers.

Standards like these not only define a set of performance metrics for data centers to measure their energy efficiency, but also provide a benchmark to help data centers track their performance and improvements. The SS 564 also recommends a comprehensive set of industry best practices that cover various aspects of data center operations and design.

To make attaining these standards easier, companies should source for and use products that are already certified to a certain standard. For example, the usage of uninterruptable power system (UPS) products that have already received Sustainable Materials Rating Technology (SMaRT) certification from the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS), an internationally recognized standard for measuring product sustainability. Deploying products that already adhere to a set of sustainable guidelines helps to ensure that companies are using a cost-effective product that can reduce their environmental impact.

Smaller in size, but packs a greater punch

Limiting physical sprawl is one of the most important goals to developing sustainable data centers. The data centers of tomorrow will utilize technology that enables them to use space far more efficiently.

By deploying compact infrastructure resources through the use of the latest UPS products, for example, they can experience footprint reductions of up to 50 to 60 percent as compared to previous-generation models. Similarly, companies that operate their data centers at 400V can eliminate rack-level transformers, reducing their power distribution by 50 t 60 percent as well.

Another way to reduce the data center’s physical footprint and power consumption is to leverage cloud computing resources in data centers and outsource a portion of the company’s computing requirements to an external cloud service. As cloud computing solutions deliver IT infrastructure, services and software over the web, no infrastructure is required on the user side beyond a web browser and high-speed internet connection. Cloud data centers also tend to be among the most efficient and sustainable facilities in operation today.

New is always better (at least for data centers)

The data centers of tomorrow will be equipped with the latest and most updated technology. Today’s servers, storage hardware and communications gear are significantly more power efficient than comparable models of the past. In the 1990s, a typical UPS was generally only about 80 to 82 percent efficient under standard loading conditions. Fast forward to today and UPS models can routinely achieve 92 to 95 percent efficiency. By utilizing UPS systems with advanced energy-saving capabilities, this number can increase to achieving 99 percent efficiency.

For data centers that are already established and in operation today, upgrading the UPS can both save money on electricity, as well as lighten their impact on the environment.

A renewed perspective on power sourcing

In the past, companies have traditionally cited high upfront costs as the most common barrier that prevents them from utilizing renewable energy to power their data centers. However, following the Paris Agreement of October 2016, the 10 nations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pledged their commitment to reducing carbon emissions. With increased government support, data center providers in each of these countries will find greater incentive to search for alternative sources of energy to help reduce their impact on the environment.

Achieving sustainability in the data center should be front-of-mind amongst today’s business and technology decision makers. At Eaton, we believe that everyone in the corporate world appreciates the importance of doing business efficiently and sustainably. The hope is that as we move forward into the New Year, green data centers will become a priority and an industry standard that data center providers can take pride in.

As technologies continue to be disrupted at a rapid pace, there is no doubt that exciting times are ahead of us. Yet, disruption and innovation should not have to come at the expense of the world that we live in. Reducing environmental impact is an integral part of being a responsible corporate citizen, a mission that should not be taken lightly.