Data centres will consume an increasing share of Australia’s energy use – and contribute to a growing share of its carbon emissions. That will put pressure on hyperscalers, data centre operators, boards and executives to invest in technologies to improve their data centre sustainability.
According to Joe Craparotta, VP of IT Business at Schneider Electric, data centres consume between 4 and 6 per cent of Australia’s energy generation, and this trend is set to grow with the move towards edge computing, and energy drainers like cryptocurrencies.
“It generally sits at about four to six per cent, depending on which research paper you read, but that will continue to grow exponentially now as the acceleration of large hyperscale data centres continue to build out in Australia. And also, we're seeing the edge starting to rise,” says Craparotta.
With almost two gigawatts of data centre capacity currently being built in Australia, Craparotta says that Australia will have the capacity to meet the needs of business, but only without factoring in crypto.
“We've seen that in the applications of office efficiency, normal operating tools in a corporate or mid-market environment, not very dense. When you go to the other extreme of crypto and Bitcoin, incredibly high densities, to the point where they really can't sit in a in a centralised co-lo facility because the dynamic of how much density is sitting in a few racks, makes it not feasible to actually have them in a centralised area,” says Craparotta.
“Anything up to Bitcoin and crypto is fairly manageable. It's a good predictable baseload in a data centre, the utilities understand that and have provisioned for that in the power grid.”
Craparotta describes the sheer volume of data and the processing capacity required to mine cryptocurrencies that is responsible for its high energy consumption.
The biggest factor in the electricity consumption of data centres, says Craparotta, is the cooling environment.
“With data centre loads, and data centre densities continuing to increase, what takes up a lot of that energy consumption is just cooling the environment to a certain point to make the environment sustainable.
“We've come a long way over the years in making almost all components, the cooling component, and the power component of a data centre, far more efficient. But there's a way to go. And there's constant innovation in the cooling technology.”
For businesses that outsource to data centres, in order to measure their own electricity consumption, Craparotta highlights considering the provider’s commitment to sustainability.
“It's important to understand the credentials of that co-lo facility. So how efficient are they? How sustainable? What's the sustainability program? What does it look like today? What does it look like into the future? Can they measure it? Do they have the technology to measure their consumption in real time and their sustainability metrics going forward?”
While in Europe there are regulatory frameworks in place around electricity consumption, Australia has not solidified these structures. This puts the onus on companies to be accountable for their own energy usage, ensuring that their operations are in line with sustainability targets.
“Make sure that there is a digital layer or software layer that can measure your ecosystem of power consumption, of cooling consumption, how your server and storage infrastructure are performing,” says Craparotta.
“Organisations can in real-time measure and manage their sustainability metrics. Also important to note is that a lot of that data can sit into the analytics layer. And so organisations can now measure the performance of their IT assets.”
According to Dropbox’s Vice President of Engineering, Dzmitry Markovich, the company has reduced is data centre carbon footprint by 15 per cent in the last year and a half by powering 100 per cent of its data centre operations by renewable energy.
“As more companies begin their sustainability journeys, we challenge them: Don’t take the easy way out and only look for carbon offsets! We believe that all companies can look internally and find tangible ways to minimise their carbon footprint in the data centre space,” says Markovich.
“The strategies we identified as making the most meaningful impact were: maximising our power usage effective for cooling, optimising our overall power consumption, and sourcing 100 per cent renewable energy.”
Not only should organisations be conscious of their energy consumption for cost reduction purposes, but also in the deployment of their social license to operate.
Craparotta says, “We're seeing the role of Chief Sustainability Officer starting to rise more prevalently through especially enterprise. We're seeing KPI setting across the organisation, not just the CEO, we're seeing the CIO, the CEO, the CTO, the CFO, and certainly, in some organisations the CSO, the Chief Sustainability Officer is carrying more of that incentive or ambition to reduce the footprint.”
Markovich claims that Dropbox’s sustainability targets are embedded into the company goals and measured quarterly, holding executives accountable to their targets.
“Businesses have a responsibility to deliver their products and services in an environmentally sustainable way. They need to make the necessary investments and implement the right strategies to minimise their overall impact now and into the future.”
“Executing against our sustainability targets receives support, investment and advocacy from the highest levels of leadership at the company,” says Markovich.
The video was produced by Josh Lundberg, Matthew Ryan and Tejas Bhat.