Big Challenges To Reduce Emissions In Data Centers
Although the data center industry seems to agree on the need to reduce its environmental impact, there are differing views on how and when it can be achieved. As the various ways to increase efficiency, reduce energy consumption and switch to renewables are studied, operators are encountering difficulties that put at risk the apparent consensus of the industry.
Governments, the scientific community and the population, in general, are increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change that are beginning to be evident. They are promoting a shift in the industry model towards sustainability. This is primarily focused on the sectors that consume the most energy, and data centers have been placed in this category, leading operators to change their focus toward sustainability.
The industry seems to have reached a consensus on the need to move towards sustainability, which is being seen in statements from the most important segments of the industry, such as cloud service providers. But reducing carbon emissions from data centers is a complicated undertaking. As companies explore the options available to them and the requirements to achieve them, they encounter new challenges that are more complex than anticipated.
According to experts at the Uptime Institute, many of the methods proposed so far are more complicated and may seem counterintuitive and counterproductive to the industry. For example, most of the commitments adopted by the members of the sector are voluntary, which has led to a certain laxity in the definitions, the objectives and the very terminology used when talking about the sustainability of data centers, as well as in the level of deepening of the strategies to be adopted.
What does seem clear to experts is that sustainability reporting requirements for data center operators will become increasingly mandatory, either through legislation or as a result of commercial pressure. And that the lack of publication of data or the failure to meet the objectives will be accompanied by sanctions and other harmful consequences for the business. This will lead companies in the sector to almost necessarily move towards greater sustainability, but the lack of consensus on how to do it is generating discord and problems.
The most vital driver of this transition to date through regulations is the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive, which has achieved a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, but new ones are expected. Principles will try to speed up this process. Regulations like this will force complete control of the environmental footprint of industries in the region, including data centers. An increase in public audits is expected to verify compliance, affecting operators smaller (from 300 to 400 kilowatts of total load per installation).
But all these changes that are wanted to be promoted in the sector face numerous difficulties since the large companies, especially cloud and colocation service providers, have more capacity to move towards sustainability. At the other extreme are the more modest companies, whose scope for action and resources are more limited. At the same time, large companies are lobbying to relax regulations on sustainability and emission reductions in the EU while relying on compensatory measures and compensation to balance their energy efficiency, something that smaller companies are not in a position to do
But experts believe that these measures only act as ‘make-up’ to hide what is, in many cases, a lack of commitment to real change towards greater energy efficiency. And they believe that in the coming years, they will not save highly energy-consuming companies, such as colocation companies, from adopting a strategy truly focused on reducing consumption. They also undermine the accusations of the big players in the sector, who claim that the most remarkable inefficiency occurs in the facilities of the smaller data center operators.
To achieve the change that the industry needs, the Uptime Institute believe that it is necessary for IT services, colocation and cloud client companies to advance in strategies to reduce their Scope 2 carbon footprint, which includes indirect emissions—derived from the services they subcontract. This will force providers to be more transparent and put more effort into making this change. Although they point out that many colocation clients currently classify their provider’s emissions as Scope 3, which requires more lax oversight and is not covered by costly carbon offsets.
Much of the data center community, including the Uptime Institute as the certification body, believes that IT owners should take responsibility for Scope 2 but acknowledges that this is problematic. In this sense, IT owners and operators should take responsibility for the carbon emissions resulting from the purchase of energy made by cloud or colocation providers concerning the services provided. However, many are still unwilling to do so. In addition, this responsibility would be associated with others, which generates excellent reluctance.
Everything seems to indicate that disagreements over the model that should be adopted by the transformation of the data center industry towards greater environmental sustainability are going to worsen this year. And fundamental problems such as the lack of a standardized metric to measure IT efficiency based on current criteria of helpful work per watt, which is intended to apply to any workload, regardless of its nature, still need to be resolved.