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The data centre industry is at a crossroads. On one hand, the demand for data and computing power is skyrocketing, driven by the relentless growth of cloud computing, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. On the other hand, the industry is facing increasing scrutiny for its environmental impact, with data centres accounting for up to 3% of global electricity consumption.

As we head into 2024, data centre operators are facing the challenge of balancing these competing demands. They must find ways to reduce their environmental footprint while also ensuring that their facilities can meet the ever-growing demand for data and compute.

According to Keysource’s State of the Industry Report, 69% of data centre operators have a seat at the table when discussing sustainability targets. This suggests that there is a growing awareness of the importance of sustainability within the industry. However, the report also found that only 17% of respondents consider sustainability to be a high priority when considering new IT solutions and services. This suggests that there is still a long way to go in terms of embedding sustainability into the decision-making process.

The Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) is a European Union directive that sets energy efficiency standards for new and existing data centres. The EED requires qualifying data centres to meet certain energy efficiency requirements. It is a significant step forward in terms of regulating the environmental impact of data centres. However, our State of the Industry Report found that only half of respondents have suitable ways of measuring key metrics like those required by the EED. This suggests that there is a need for more investment in data centre monitoring and measurement tools.

Here are some of the key sustainability trends that are expected to shape the data centre industry in 2024:

1. Net-zero commitments

A growing number of data centre operators are making net-zero commitments, pledging to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from their operations by 2050. This is being driven by a combination of factors, including increased regulatory pressure, investor demand and a growing recognition of the need to address climate change.

To achieve net-zero, data center operators will need to implement a range of measures, including:

Improving energy efficiency:
This can be achieved through a variety of measures, such as using more efficient hardware, adopting virtualization technologies and implementing intelligent cooling systems.

Shifting to renewable energy:
Data centre operators are increasingly turning to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to power their facilities. This can help to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and their overall carbon footprint.

Investing in carbon offsets:
Carbon offsets can be used to compensate for emissions that cannot be eliminated

2. Decarbonisation efforts

Decarbonisation is a broader term than net-zero that encompasses all efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes not only reducing direct emissions from data centre operations but also addressing indirect emissions, such as those from the supply chain and the transportation of data.

Data centre operators are implementing a range of decarbonisation strategies, such as:

Adopting circular economy principles:
This involves extending the life of IT equipment, recycling and reusing materials and minimising waste.

Investing in renewable energy infrastructure:
This includes developing and supporting renewable energy projects, such as solar farms and wind turbines.

Collaborating with industry partners:
Data centre operators are working together to share best practices and develop industry-wide decarbonisation standards.

3. AI-driven operations

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly important role in data centre operations. AI can be used to:

Optimise energy efficiency:
AI can analyse data centre operations to identify areas where energy can be saved.

Predict and prevent downtime:
AI can analyse historical data and sensor readings to predict potential problems and take corrective action before they occur.

Automate tasks:
AI can automate many of the tasks that are currently performed manually by data centre operators, freeing up their time to focus on more strategic tasks.

4. Hybrid and edge computing

The rise of hybrid and edge computing is also having a significant impact on data centre sustainability. Hybrid cloud environments combine on-premises infrastructure with cloud computing services, while edge computing brings computing power closer to where data is generated.

These trends can help to reduce energy consumption and emissions by:

Reducing the need for data transportation:
Hybrid and edge computing can reduce the need to transport data long distances, which can save energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Optimising resource utilisation:
Hybrid and edge computing can help to optimise the use of IT resources, which can improve energy efficiency.

5. Sustainability reporting and transparency: EED Compliance and Beyond

The increasing demand for transparency from investors, customers and regulators is driving data centre operators to prioritise sustainability reporting and transparency. The Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) plays a pivotal role in this trend by mandating energy efficiency standards and reporting requirements for qualifying data centres.

To effectively comply with the EED, data centre operators must implement robust monitoring and measurement systems capable of continuously collecting and analysing data on energy consumption, efficiency ratios and other sustainability-related metrics.

In addition to complying with the EED, data centre operators are adopting various sustainability reporting frameworks, such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). These frameworks provide standardised methodologies for quantifying and reporting on environmental impact.

The benefits of embracing sustainability reporting and transparency extend beyond regulatory compliance:

Enhanced transparency and accountability:
Data centre operators can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability by transparently reporting on their environmental performance.

Attracting and retaining sustainability-conscious customers:
Customers who prioritise sustainability are more likely to choose data centre providers with a strong track record of environmental responsibility.

Benchmarking and performance improvement:
By comparing their performance to industry peers, data centre operators can identify areas for improvement and implement strategies to enhance their sustainability efforts.

According to the State of the Industry Report, 81% of respondents are confident in their ability to provide data centre/hosting metrics to meet the requirements of the EED. However, only half of those same respondents have suitable ways of measuring key metrics like those required by the EED.

This suggests a need for further investment in data centre monitoring and measurement tools to ensure accurate and comprehensive sustainability reporting.

The data centre industry is undergoing a significant transformation as it strives to become more sustainable. The trends discussed here are just a few of the many ways that data centre operators are working to reduce their environmental impact in 2024.

As we all continue to innovate and adopt new technologies, we can expect to see even greater progress in data centre sustainability in the years to come.

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