The data center industry has made some big moves over the last two years to demonstrate a desire to create more energy sustainable operations. Apple, Facebook, Google, ebay, Microsoft, Amazon and others have each made moves that will make a real dent in their companies carbon emissions. The choices for going green are myriad and are demonstrated by the diversity of options selected by the aforementioned companies. However, it seems my industry (colocation) has been slower to pick up the sustainability baton.
Many colocation companies have been slow to reduce their PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness), and they’ve been even slower to make any serious moves into the sustainable/renewable energy market. While there are a few notable exceptions, I struggled to find more than a couple handfuls of the approximately 1086 colocation companies from around the globe that had made any serious effort to use more renewable energy. As of December 2014 there were 3685 individual data centers in the colocation space. Assuming an average data center size of 5 MWs there are over 18,000 MWs of energy being consumed per hour by these 3685 data centers. The carbon emission estimate- assuming 70% or more of the 18,000 MWs are generated through coal- would be *79,000,000 tons of CO2 every year.
Efficiency vs. Sustainable
Efficiency is a great place to start and there are still thousands of colocation centers that have PUE values of over 2.0 (depending on regional climate issues a good PUE should be 1.2 – 1.45). This means on average colocation facilities are burning 30% plus more energy than they should be to support their hosted IT equipment. This inefficiency is bad enough, but when you combine it with the dirty energy mix that most of these 3685 data centers run on the story only gets worse. Consider that a data center running at a PUE of 2.0 on natural gas produces less carbon output than a 1.4 PUE data center running on coal generated energy. Combining a high PUE with a dirty energy supply just exacerbates the situation.
Related blog: Sustainability Applies to Data Center Facility Design
Roadblocks Real & Assumed to Positive Change
While I can’t and won’t attempt to speak for every colocation provider, I can discuss some of the things I’ve witnessed during my time in the industry. Many colocation providers act as if they are merely recipients of customer workloads, unwilling and seemingly unable to make changes that the customers aren’t demanding. One simple example of this unwillingness to change is the fact that most data centers are still being built with raised floor, which is being used as the cold air plenum. Cold air falls, hot air rises, why would you push cold air up? Another issue is the lack of scale that many of the providers have in any one location. This lack of scale means any individual location or small provider would struggle to force real change on how energy is sourced in their area. It’s also true that a large number of existing colocation facilities still don’t isolate their hot and cold spaces, which means they are mixing the air and causing unnecessary inefficiencies.
Switch SUPERNAP Makes a Bold Move on Renewable Energy
The SUPERNAP data centers have been known for their efficiency for some time (annualized PUE of 1.18). The data centers historically have been more sustainable because of the cleaner energy mix provided off the grid in Nevada and especially in Las Vegas where we’ve been based. The latest Switch SUPERNAP sustainability news though has made me even prouder to be a part of this organization. With efforts underway to build 100 MW’s of solar in Nevada starting in October 2015 our stated goal is to be G100 (100% on Renewable energy). We became the first Nevada company and first data center in the country to join President Obama’s climate pledge and we’re also working with elected leaders in northern Nevada to use 100% recycled effluent in Reno and partnering for new water technologies in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
The Opportunity to Make Real Change is Here
Our industry needs to come to grips with the combined impact of so many data centers on our carbon emissions and water use. In some geos we still see 100% of energy supplied by coal and in other areas companies are running inefficient facilities from a water perspective where there are on-going droughts. I see tremendous growth in the data center industry continuing for some time to come and Data Center Dynamics estimates a CAGR of 9.3%.
Related Blog on Growth: Data Center Trends – Have you Fallen behind Already?
Change is needed and there’s no better time than now. I call on my fellow colocation industry folks to accept the challenge to reduce energy use through improved efficiencies and increase the adoption of cleaner and or renewable energy.