Sustainability Trends 2023: Is Reliance on Data Centers a Basic Human Need? | Daily News Byte

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In today’s complex digital landscape, what is the best way to formulate a data center point of view for critical power and cooling across industries, technology trends and world realities? The answer might surprise you. It starts with high-level thinking – like taking pictures of the Artemis 1/Orion spaceship – and then landing it safely here on Earth.

The world is a fascinating place made up of different cultures, economic levels and opinions. Still, there are general truths that emerge that affect the data center industry. For starters, we’re using Earth’s resources faster than our planet can reproduce them. We now rely on energy as a basic human need and we are rapidly expanding our reliance on energy every day. In fact, the digitization of almost all aspects of our lives is a growing reality that continues to reinvent itself.

In short, the planet needs human help, but our reliance on energy is growing in an ever-evolving digital world.

A data center of any kind—whether small, medium, large, extra large—plays a role in all three of these macro-truths. More than 20 years ago, the data center industry collectively identified the value of energy efficiency and advocated for minimizing energy use in large data centers with tangible results. And we’re not done yet! Edge computing is expected to overtake core data center power consumption by 2040. Because of its role in 5G and IIOT, edge computing will require micro-data centers at a build level that goes beyond the hyperscale construction we see today. As we move into 2023, awareness of the need for sustainable data centers of all sizes will reach a tipping point as frontline and C-level IT professionals and data center operators move away from an appetite for change and toward action.

We rely on data centers for our basic needs

Our reliance on electricity began with basic human needs such as cooling and lighting. Over the decades, industrial applications have driven the need for larger power sources and more complex distribution. Data centers now represent approximately 1-2% of global energy consumption, and construction of core data centers is expected to double over the next 15 years. The trend towards digitization is responsible for increasing the level of energy consumption and, in turn, the increased energy needs of data centers. As a result, reliance on data centers as a basic human need is likely to be expected. Just look at the hurricane-ravaged area reports. The first comments regarding infrastructure are usually the deterioration of roads, drinking water, cooling and communications. At least two of those critical needs are directly related to energy use and communications – both of which pass through the data center.

Simply put: Energy is a basic human need. At the same time, the criticality of data center applications continues to grow, creating a subsequent expectation that they will rely on both energy and digital capabilities. Hyperscale data center construction currently underway will not skip a beat, regardless of the macroeconomic and geo-political impacts that will come our way in the future. In addition, operational technologies converging on information technologies will become the biggest driving force behind the need for critical power and cooling resilience.

Therefore, sustainability, energy resilience and the reliability of digitization are the new principles of the data center industry. In fact, problem-solving skills in these critical areas are formulating future job descriptions for IT professionals, data center operators, and multiple layers of vendors and service providers. To help dedicated professional advancement in these key areas, we can look at practical suggestions for 2023. Sustainability is the most difficult to conceptualize – and therefore the most difficult to focus on. As with any complex problem, we can best tackle it by looking at it from a high level and then breaking it down into digestible steps.

  • Step 1: The starting point in addressing data center sustainability is defining the problem by determining a set of measurable items. As we once dealt with energy efficiency, the best will help us to have broad agreement on key data center sustainability measures. The five key areas of energy, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water, waste and biodiversity can be broken down into tangible standardized metrics that can be benchmarked against each other for target setting purposes.
  • Step 2: Once the metrics are established, the focus can shift to highlighting the appropriate measuring tools where data center infrastructure management (DCIM) 3.0 will play a central role.
  • Step 3: Once established, measurement tools will yield numbers to determine current success and sustainability gaps. For example, Product Environmental Profiles (PEPs) are important numbers when assessing GHG status.

Standardizing critical power and cooling infrastructure takes the guesswork out of ensuring energy resilience and digitization reliability. We’ve made strides with the configuration tools and integrated prefab/micro data center solutions that exist today to map replicable and manageable critical infrastructure. Armed with these solutions, the data center industry and IT/OT professionals can use the right sustainability measures to create a reliable, resilient and secure power and cooling infrastructure in 2023 and beyond.

Adam Compton is director of strategy for Schneider Electric. For more information, consult these resources: Data Center Sustainability Metrics, Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) 3.0, Product Environmental Profiles (PEPs), Best Practices for Deploying Sustainable and Resilient Data Centers at the Edge Scale:

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