CloudBees sponsored this podcast.
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made as the IT industry is calling it the cloud. Because it’s not out there. It’s in data centers. We’ve distanced ourselves from the data center, and we’ve distanced ourselves from the environmental repercussions of data centers.
The numbers of the IT industry’s carbon footprint deeply vary and are highly disputed, depending on if you just consider data centers or the entire circular lifecycle of the networking and the hardware. But they all seem to fall around ten percent of the world’s energy usage is in IT. And if we expect data usage to double every four years, the IT industry is in the unique position of doubling its carbon footprint while other industries are decreasing it.
Basically, if we are the ones driving the future, we are the ones most responsible to consider those consequences.
In this episode of The New Stack Makers podcast, we talk about all this and more with Susanna Kass, who, after 30 years designing, building and operating data centers, is now the data center advisor for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Program.
For data centers, it all comes down to stopping what Kass refers to as the “dirty cloud,” which sees most data centers depleting energy, land, and water. Data centers need to make a pledge to achieve carbon neutrality for every kilowatt-hour that is consumed, be accountable for the phase-out of coal, and transition to a carbon-neutral infrastructure by using and generating renewable energy per KW hour consumed by the site.
Kass describes this as using “nature-based technological solutions to protect our earth, resources and the environment.”
In our always-on world, Kass says data centers have the wasteful common practice of over-provisioning. This is when, in an effort to achieve 100 percent uptime, they provision for double — with 2N full redundancy — or N+1 — usually an extra back-up unit for every four units running. This means a lot of data centers are running twice as many resources as they need to. Kass says resource waste needs to be considered from the start and there’s a demand for an uptick in startups that help them guarantee uptime without wasting so excessively.
This is all part of a sustainable data center design. This starts with your data center construction and operational plan, moves onto your resource lifecycle, and then finally eliminating landfill contribution by getting rid of single-use through reuse, recycle, and remanufacture.
“The goal is to promote better digital welfare as we evolve into the digital age,” Kass said.
Of course, we all know our proverbial world ends when we lose signal, so this next-generation sustainable energy design has to include 24/7, 365 uptime, scalability and growth, but it has to be more than that. In this conversation, Kass talks about the effective use of land, power, water, and network infrastructure that needs to be planned from the start “So we can capture any waste that comes up with it to minimize environmental impact.”
Carbon offsetting is definitely a popular piece but just pushes the problem away a bit — putting a bandaid on it instead of stopping the bleed.
Kass defines a truly sustainable data center as checking off each of these points:
- Generating only renewable energy that’s consumed at the site
- Zero carbon footprint
- Zero emission
- Zero waste
This includes the huge waste-maker for data centers: heating. How it’s mostly done now is that they cool down the heat given off by computers so they stay cool and running smoothly. Kass says this heat can easily be used to heat surrounding towns’ water supply through district heating technology.
Another concern that should be at the forefront of every data center strategy is to be more disciplined in terms of not using potable water.
The end goal is what Kass calls the triple bottom line — economic, environmental and societal benefit. And in this conversation, she talks specifically about the power even the individual developer has to demand clean power.
Read the new white paper by Kass on Sustainable Development Goals for Data Centers.