Raconteur

Digital Transformation 2020 September

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D I G I T A L T R A N S F O R M A T I O N 12 What impact is the recent uptick in online activity having on the environment and what are cloud providers doing about any potential damage? Action needed on cloud's carbon footprint Watkins says government-set targets, such as the UK's climate change agreements, which reward emission reductions with lower tax levies, have been instrumental in encouraging datacentres to be more sustainable. "It puts pressure on business," he says. The Paris Agreement and sim - ilar targets have inspired large- scale aims, such as Google's goal to source enough carbon-free energy to fuel their datacentres at all times; they're already the world's biggest corporate buyer of renewables. It's driven from the client side, too. Watkins says clients used to be preoccupied solely with the secu - rity of their data, but now there's a similar focus on sustainability. "So we have certifications, for example, for energy management and also for environmental management," he points out. As consumers continue to pile on the pressure, datacentres have to find sustainable ways to scale. A shift to more efficient hyperscal- ers has helped. By the end of 2019, there were more than 500 hyper- scale centres in the world, more than 100 of which had been built during the previous two years. Many hyperscalers are now look- ing to colder climes, such as the Nordic region, to reduce their cool- ing needs and improve efficiency, and for easy access to renewable power. Microsoft is even trialling an underwater datacentre. "I think generally the message is quite positive," says Watkins. "There's a lot of focus on sustain- ability, not just from our own side, from our peers as well. Everyone's keen to support these targets." hether we know it or not, most of us depend on data- centres. Consider a typical day. You scroll through Twitter as the coffee brews or start the morning with a YouTube yoga class. At work, whether at home or in the office, you write emails, update Google Docs, use your company's cloud-based system. You might stream a podcast as you cook dinner, later catching up on a Netflix show. All these actions come back to datacentres: buildings full of serv - ers. The songs you stream are stored there, so are the photos you post on Instagram and the entire Netflix catalogue, as well as the cloud. Because we're online 24/7, data- centres also work around the clock. And more of the world is connect- ing. Cisco estimates that by 2023, 66 per cent of the global population will be using the internet, up from 51 per cent in 2018. How much energy is required to fuel our online habits? Here's a suggestion: in 2018, the video of the song Despacito became the most watched ever with five bil - lion YouTube views and it has been claimed that the streaming of this video alone used as much energy as 40,000 US homes use in a year. YouTube reportedly made up 15 per cent of the 40 per cent increase in global consumer broadband traffic over worldwide lockdowns from this February to mid-April. Though hyperscale datacentres can demand a lot from local grids, the global electricity use of datacen - tres has remained more or less flat over the past decade due to better efficiency, using around 1 per cent of the world's electricity. However, that figure is expected to increase, though estimates vary; the lack of global data makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions. In terms of a carbon footprint, datacentres are thought to contrib - ute roughly 0.3 per cent of CO 2 emis- sions. But in a 2015 paper, Anders Andrae and Tomas Edler of Huawei Technologies Sweden note that even if electricity use increases, "the trend of using renewable power is strong and it is likely many datacen- tres can be run GHG [greenhouse gas] efficient". UK-based datacentre company VIRTUS uses a combination of solar, hydro and wind to fuel sites that run an IT load of up to 24 megawatts, "equivalent to a small town", says solutions director David Watkins. "When you hear a lot of businesses talking about being efficient, espe - cially with regards to energy, typi- cally that looks at using less energy. Datacentres are a little bit unusual in this regard, in that, for us to be growing, we're going to be using more energy," Watkins explains. "That's why it's so important to use it effectively." That means monitoring centres 24 hours a day to avoid running more equipment than is needed and investing in state-of-the-art tech, which tends to be more efficient. Large and hyperscale datacentres are generally more energy efficient than smaller ones. Aside from the servers, datacen - tres also need to run cooling sys- tems to stop the tech overheating. At VIRTUS, they chill air to 24C and blow it through the rooms. After Heather Richardson W Capgemini 2020 There's a lot of focus on sustainability, not just from our own side, from our peers as well. Everyone's keen to support these targets IT ENERGY DEMAND TO SURGE Estimated electricity demand of the global ICT industry, in terawatt hours (TWh) E N V I R O M N E N T passing through the computers, it's around 36C. The air is delivered back to the air-conditioner units, cooled in a heat-exchange process and then blown back into the rooms. Waste heat can be redirected to a nearby facility, if something suitable exists. VIRTUS uses it to heat their on-site offices. In Nordic countries, waste heat can be pushed directly into district heating systems. Standby generators, usually run on diesel, are a problem for data - centres looking to reduce their car- bon footprint. In countries with stable grids, they're rarely used. "They're the world's most expen- sive insurance policy," notes Watkins, who says VIRTUS has had only two unplanned power trans- fers since 2011. Microsoft aims to move away from diesel fuel by 2030, in line with their goal of becoming carbon negative by the same year. But an alternative has to be robust. VIRTUS is consid- ering biodiesel. In July, Microsoft successfully tested emission-free hydrogen fuel cells on a row of serv- ers for 48 hours. Another sustainability issue is the batteries needed for uninterrupted power supplies, which bridge the gap between a power outage and the generators starting. Lead-acid batteries, still the most commonly used in datacentres, are less efficient than modern alterna - tives, such as lithium-ion, although lithium production requires huge amounts of water. Silicon Valley startup Natron Energy is developing a sodium-ion battery specifically for datacentres, which can recharge in eight minutes and doesn't include any rare earth metals. Networks (wireless and wired) Production of ICT Consumer devices (televisions computers, mobile phones) Data centres 0 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022 2024 2026 2028 2030 1k 2k 3k 4k 5k 6k 7k 8k Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

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