Sustainability is challenging businesses to rethink their operations with a long-term view of how their products will impact the earth and its resources. In the IT and data center industry, large data center operators are using cleaner energy sources, virtualization technologies, and more predictive, AI-driven controls to reduce the impact of data centers on the earth’s resources. Although these investments and technologies have the potential to drive meaningful impact on the environment, for the typical enterprise data center operator, they remain out of reach.
In a worldwide survey conducted in February 2020, IDC found that one in four organizations has been unable to meet their sustainability goals. Why aren’t these goals being met? The initiatives to drive meaningful progress towards efficiency typically fall behind other immediate needs — running the business and responding quickly with technology to create competitive differentiation.
Sustainability progress requires organization wide commitment. As a mission-critical facility, enterprise data center managers are understandably more concerned with ensuring resilient operations than saving money on the utility bill. Being green has been tough in a mission-critical business environment. Especially for data centers, the potential benefits and trade-offs weren’t worth the risk of making major changes.
At the same time, companies are very much aware of how their stated goals and progress on being “green” have a direct impact on two critical ingredients to business success — money and talent. Without capital investment and top people, your business will be at a disadvantage. The ability to attract and retain investors, customers/partners, and top talent now hinges on the ability to show progress on sustainability goals.
Major investors such as Blackrock have put sustainability progress front and center. Companies today are faced with the very real threat of reduced investment and inability to attract top people and skills if their sustainability goals don’t take priority. And being green also impacts product and partner choices.
Considering the role that sustainability progress plays in attracting investment, customers, and talent, organizations agree that being greener is a top initiative. When asked how they will accomplish these initiatives, 60% say they will seek help from an outside provider. It’s a complex problem and requires great coordination across the entire organization — something that company leaders know is much easier said than done. It’s tough to find the right skills and talent to improve the efficient use of energy. Almost half of organizations have difficulty finding these skills. As demand for these skills surges, they will become even more difficult to find.
Help from Hyperscalers
The high importance of sustainability goals and difficulty achieving them begs the question of who will take on the heavy lifting for green data centers? Answer: hyperscalers. Long the pariah and target of discussions around data center energy consumption, hyperscalers have led the industry in adopting cleaner and renewable energy sources. In the Environmental Protection Agency’s ranking of “green” companies, 7 of the top 10 were tech companies. Tech companies are making progress and experimenting with novel solutions to overcome energy resource challenges.
Enterprises have noticed. 55% of organizations believe that a colocation provider has a better ability than they do for monitoring environmental conditions and power consumption in white space. Many enterprises are looking to their colocation partners and cloud service providers to lead the way. When asked about selection criteria for a colocation provider, 43% said energy efficiency and green initiatives was a top initiative.
Energy efficiency ranked second to reliability and equal with cost. This shows just how important “being green” has become to customers. Colocation providers have an opportunity to differentiate their business on their ability to help their tenant customers make progress on their sustainability goals. Improving efficiency requires a significant shift in how data centers are managed. It requires relying on trusted technology and the ability to shift to data-driven decisions on how to manage data centers. Machine learning and predictive analytics will uncover areas where greater efficiencies can be achieved.
Fine-Tuning with AI
Large data center operators also have a vested interest in using less power. Any reduction in operating costs improves their profitability. Many have made significant investments in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Many are fine-tuning their data center environments with the help of AI and machine learning. Shifting to remote monitoring and predictive and proactive maintenance can uncover opportunities for improved resilience and greater cost savings.
For hyperscalers, making small adjustments in temperatures and acting in a more predictive way saves money on the utility bill. But this is something that’s difficult and perceived as risky for the typical enterprise data center operator. Same with liquid cooling — there are technologies that hold promise of improving the use of energy, but many organizations don’t have the ability to manage risk or aren’t motivated to make changes. For this reason, service provider and colocation providers — data center experts — are in the driver’s seat for meaningful change. Their success in improving operational efficiency and “greenness” also directly impact their profitability.
The New Table Stakes
We are at an inflection point in the industry where speed to build data centers and deliver white space quickly and connect to the cloud are table stakes. The real area of differentiation is how well data center owners can help an organization make progress along its sustainability journey. This is increasingly difficult as IT infrastructure is placed in new locations (edge) and physical environments and climates vary greatly. To ensure continued progress towards carbon neutrality while growing at the scale needed by digital business – many organizations will need data center partners that share sustainability objectives.
Large service providers and colocation providers are being asked to drive these initiatives — and be a vested partner and source of expertise on how to be more efficient. Organizations are setting aggressive goals to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on the earth by 2025 and 2030 and beyond. Colocation providers that understand the critical role IT and data center resources have in this journey are making investments today to prepare for their customers’ needs in five years.
For many, investments to improve efficiency will yield better profits by gaining the most value out of energy used. The more colocation providers can increase transparency for tenant customers and help them achieve their sustainability goals, the more they will drive long-term trusted partnerships built on mutual goals to protect the earth and its resources.
For more information on your data center sustainability journey, please visit the Schneider Electric website.