Prioritizing and Qualifying the Greenification of Data Centers

A Q&A with Portman Partners Associate Ian Bitterlin

Many data center operators say their customers who want to be in sustainable data centers are the ones pushing the drive to greenness. Do you think green is the main concern for ICT clients?

No doubt that some do. Although, I would suggest that most want to be seen to as green for marketing purposes. The push comes from the very largest operators that want to make sure they don’t attract unwelcome negative publicity from environmentalists. The class case is Greenpeace’s article about Google: “How dirty is your data?”

Data center clients want to be seen to be doing the right thing. However, in my experience, that doesn’t take priority ahead of the reliability of their ICT services in a location that suits their business. 

Unfortunately, sustainability is not just about renewable energy. In fact, that is the last step towards sustainability, not the first.

If, in your opinion, renewable energy is the last step, what is the path toward sustainable energy systems?

The path is well defined, which is easy to say and very hard to do. The steps along this path are to reduce demand, improve the process and power from renewable sources.

Reduce Demand: The data center industry responds to demand created by an ever-increasing access at low cost. The result is demand is actively encouraged, e.g. streaming HD video to mobile devices. Simply put, 5G will be bad for climate change—lower energy per packet transmitted, but the bandwidth will drive more usage. Overall, energy demand will dramatically increase.

Improve the Process: Inside the data center get ICT hardware utilization to high levels, up from 10-15 percent average to the 70-80 percent of some of the best outsourced providers. Using scalable systems that can adapt to varying load.

Power from Renewable Energy Sources: We presently start here but should first reduce the energy demand, not fritter away valuable renewable energy on frivolous apps—just because we can. 

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