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Data Centre Sustainability Challenges Facing Higher Education

By Blog, Thought Leadership

Data centre sustainability has been a priority within the industry for over a decade. Yet, today, data centres still account for 3% of the global electricity supply and 2% of overall greenhouse gas emissions.

This makes sustainability a priority for the higher education sector as institutions increasingly analyse how they power and centralise their IT operations.

We’ll discuss the sector’s primary sustainability issues and what can be done to address them.

What are the environmental issues associated with data centres?

It’s no great secret that data centres raise many environmental questions. According to Gartner, it’s predicted that 75% of data centres will employ some type of sustainability program by 2027.
Environmental concerns and cost optimisation drive the path toward sustainability. In short, it could be profitable to go green in today’s world.
So, what environmental issues must a data centre sustainability program examine?

Energy consumption

Data centres consume vast amounts of energy to power their servers and associated infrastructure. This incredible energy demand impacts greenhouse gas emissions and places additional burdens on electricity grids worldwide.

As the industry grows, this is becoming an even bigger problem. Today, it’s estimated that data centres use more fossil fuels than the entire global aviation industry.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Data centres often draw their energy from non-renewable sources, such as coal and natural gas. Due to this energy need, data centres are directly responsible for significant carbon dioxide emissions. It’s why data centres emit 300 megatons of CO2 annually.

Heat generation

During their day-to-day operations, data centres generate massive amounts of heat. All these facilities require intricate cooling systems to maintain optimal conditions.
These cooling mechanisms require energy, and improperly designed cooling systems can lead to excessive wastage.

Water usage

Water is often used as the primary medium for dissipating heat. In particular, large-scale data centres will use water-based cooling systems. This can tremendously strain local water supplies, especially in regions already facing drought conditions, such as California.

Electronic waste

The technology behind the average data centre changes all the time, and this means that data centre owners and operators must constantly implement upgrades and replacements for their equipment. Over time, this creates a tremendous amount of electronic waste.

Material use

Did you know that many of a data centre’s emissions come directly from its construction?

Various materials and chemicals are used to bring a data centre to life. These include:

  • Cabling
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Cooling fluids

Improper management could lead to harmful substances making their way into the environment.

Land use

Where you build your data centre matters. Sometimes, data centres may require deforestation and disruption to local ecosystems to build. Unfortunately, large-scale data centres require massive amounts of space due to their physical infrastructure.

How do data centres work in higher education settings?

With these environmental issues in mind, do higher education settings need data centres to power themselves?

Higher education institutions rely on data centres for a variety of functions, and this is why schools, colleges and research labs often require data centres to reach their potential.

Some of the ways data centres work in higher education include:

Infrastructure Support – Data centres act as the underlying infrastructure necessary to control the IT systems of a higher education institution. Without these hardware components, keeping everything up and running would become impossible.

Data Storage/Backup – Data centres are designed to act as central repositories for all the digital data produced by students, faculty and administrative staff. They also offer robust disaster recovery functions.

Computing Resources – Additional computing resources are often required for the computational needs of higher education institutions, including High-Performance Computing (HPC) and complex data analysis.

Application Hosting – Higher education data centres may also use institutional applications, such as Learning Management Systems (LMS). Crucially, they are centrally managed, making a data centre essential.

Connectivity – Data centres do much more than house data and power applications. They also act as network hubs to unify your institution’s entire network infrastructure, guaranteeing high-speed connectivity at all times.

The importance of data centres for higher education

Why are data centres so critical to higher education institutions? Today, the IT needs of higher education have evolved. As new technologies are implemented in the classroom, and researchers increasingly call upon next-generation technology, dedicated data centres have become a must-have.
Some of the purposes of data centres include:
  • Data storage
  • Data management
  • HPC resources
  • Facilitating innovation
  • Teaching and learning support
  • Institutional operations
  • Collaboration
  • Campus networking
  • Data security
  • Data compliance

The data challenges faced by higher education

Higher education organisations face a range of challenges associated with data. This leaves sustainability a problem because the answer is not to scale back IT operations and infrastructure.

As you can see, data centres are necessary to function optimally in today’s day and age. It means all data challenges faced by higher education must be solved through the lens of sustainability.

So, what are the primary data challenges faced by higher education?

Silos – Higher education systems must prevent data from becoming fragmented and unintegrated.

Quality – Ensuring a high degree of accuracy and consistency across all systems is another major challenge.

Security – All institutions must meet the highest data security standards to protect students and staff. Moreover, security is a huge part of compliance with domestic and international regulations.

Governance – Governance pertains to how relevant stakeholders handle and manage data. These strict policies are required to create consistency and security across your institution.

Systems – The physical infrastructure powering your data is also a priority. If running an in-house data centre, or outsourcing, you must keep your finger on the pulse to ensure that you have the physical hardware that’s fit for purpose.

Despite these immense challenges, confronting the sustainability elephant in the room and meeting the basic standards of a world-class data centre is possible.

How can universities make data centres more sustainable?

Efforts are already being made to improve the carbon footprint of data centres. One initiative is the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, which pledges only to purchase 100% renewable energy to power data centres.
However, individual data centres may need to make substantial changes to meet the standard of a genuinely climate-neutral data centre.
Here are some ways universities can take action to make data centres more sustainable today.

Upgrade to new equipment

It may seem counterproductive, but keeping your data centre equipped with the latest equipment makes you more energy efficient overall. Older data centres with core electrical and mechanical components, like Static Transfer Switches (STSs) and Uninterruptible Power Systems (UPSs), are more prone to this.
When disposing of older equipment, ensure all components are correctly recycled to reduce your footprint further.

Minimise bypass airflow

Did you know that data centre cooling accounts for 40% of total energy consumption?
Optimising airflow is one way to improve energy efficiency. By reducing bypass airflow, which doesn’t remove heat, you can increase your cooling capacity and lower your costs whilst reducing hotspots.

Go ECO mode

UPSs waste vast amounts of energy. Instead, switch to Economy (ECO) mode to minimise losses from poor energy usage.
Whilst ECO mode lacks popularity due to increased noise and other power issues, ECO mode can deliver up to 99% efficiency, compared to 94% on any other mode.

Use server virtualisation

Server virtualisation allows physical servers to be divided into multiple virtual machines capable of running separately from the physical servers. Server utilisation is one of the best moves you can make because it can:
  • Improve server utilisation.
  • Consolidate space.
  • Improve equipment usage.
  • Reduce energy consumption.

Equipment recycling

Data centres can drastically bolster their green credentials by committing to equipment recycling and reuse.
For example, Google has reused its data centre equipment since 2007. Unwanted parts are transferred from one server to repair or replace another.
Following these same principles can help you to reduce your wastage. Working with a green electronic waste company can ensure that broken, faulty and unneeded parts are correctly recycled.

How can the education sector implement a sustainable data centre strategy?

The education sector can take several steps to move to a sustainable data centre model. Several options exist, but it all begins with defining a clear strategy. It could include designing a green data centre or gradually replacing parts of an existing one.
Some options for building your strategy for sustainability can include:
  • Monitoring energy usage to identify areas for improvement.
  • Implementing power management systems to shut down idle servers.
  • Deploying energy-efficient technologies.
  • Using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power.
Understandably, this is a significant undertaking for any higher education institution. Don’t worry if you need to move from legacy processes and systems to a new green future. Keysource can help you every step of the way!

Speak to our team today for tailored university data centre solutions

At Keysource, we specialise in designing and consulting on sustainable data centres for the higher education sector. Our expert team brings decades of experience to the table and an understanding of the unique needs of the education sector.

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Navigating the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED): What Data Centre Operators Need to Know

By Blog, Thought Leadership

Prepare for the New EED Rules

The Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) is a European Union (EU) directive that sets energy efficiency targets for member states. The latest revision of the EED, which was adopted in 2021, includes a number of new provisions for data centres, which are responsible for a significant portion of the EU’s energy consumption.

Some of the new EED rules for data centres will come into effect as early as next year but data centre operators should start preparing now to comply with the new requirements.

What do the new rules include?

Mandatory reporting for large data centres

Data centres with a capacity of at least 500kW will be required to report their energy efficiency data to the EU Commission on an annual basis. This data will be used to track progress towards the EU’s energy efficiency targets and to identify areas where further improvement is needed.

Minimum energy performance standards for new and refurbished data centres

New and refurbished data centres will be required to meet minimum energy performance standards. These standards will be based on the best available technology and will be updated on a regular basis to reflect technological advancements.

Obligation to promote the use of renewable energy

Data centre operators will be required to promote the use of renewable energy in their facilities. This may involve installing on-site renewable energy generation systems or purchasing renewable energy from the grid.

Additional requirements

In addition to the new rules outlined above, the EED also includes a number of other requirements that may be of interest to data centre operators, such as:

  • Reporting on key sustainability indicators: Data centre operators will be required to report on a number of key sustainability indicators, including total data centre energy consumption, temperature set points, and ICT equipment utilization.
  • Compliance with EN50600-4 KPIs: Data centre operators will be required to comply with four of the eight EN50600-4 KPIs, which are a set of standards for measuring and reporting on the energy efficiency of data centres.

How Keysource Can Help You Prepare for the New EED Rules

Data centre operators need to start preparing now to comply with the new EED requirements.

Keysource can help you with this process as we provide a range of helpful services.

Energy audits

We can conduct a comprehensive energy audit of your data centre to identify areas where energy consumption can be reduced.

Energy management systems

We can help you to implement an energy management system to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs.

Compliance planning

We can help you to develop a plan to comply with the new reporting requirements, including identifying the data that needs to be collected and the systems that will be used to collect and report the data.

Renewable energy assessments

We can assess your renewable energy options and help you to develop a plan to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and meet the new renewable energy requirements.

Contact us today to learn more about how
we can help you to prepare for the
new EED regulations

Our team of experts has a deep understanding of the new EED rules
and how they will impact data centre operators.

We are committed to helping our clients to comply with the new rules
and to reduce their environmental impact.

State of the Industry 2023

By Blog, Downloads, Event, News, Press Release, Thought Leadership

Now in it’s sixth year, Keysource’s State of the Industry Report 2023, focuses on the data centre trilemma: balancing speed, substance and sustainability. It’s packed with insights from over 250 data centre professionals, and it’s essential information for anyone involved in our industry.

The report highlights the trilemma the industry is facing in dealing with the competing and compelling challenges of developing and delivering on sustainability targets; the pressure to speed up project delivery to remain competitive; and the continuing supply chain and skills issues. This is against a background of rising costs and new EU and imminent UK Regulation changes.

The pressure to speed up project delivery is perhaps the most concerning finding of the report with 75% of those surveyed identifying quality issues which could reasonably have been identified or better managed earlier as a result. Certainly, we are seeing some organisations prioritising speed above all else which is at best risky, especially considering our respondents’ strong concerns about getting the correct advice as the skills shortage continues to bite.

Jon HealyChief Operating Officer, Keysource

The report shows that the skills shortage continues with competing demand both ‘client side’ and within the supply chain for the same people. This is reflected by the fact that only a third of respondents are confident in the quality of the information that is being provided which negatively impacts the ability to make informed decisions. As a result, nearly half of respondents chose to sub-contract more projects or services than they had planned, as the industry turns even more to supply chain partners to keep to programme timescales. According to the majority of respondents this approach had a positive impact including better quality and quicker delivery, with the inevitable trade off of a higher cost.

There are some encouraging findings around sustainability with 69% of respondents having a seat at the table when discussing sustainability targets and over half having a separate ‘green budget’ that can be used for sustainable solutions and initiatives. However, this positive progress is at odds with the just 17% who consider sustainability to be a high priority and the fact that less than a third said they were making significant progress with their sustainability strategy – with over half still not having one at all! In addition, 64% of respondents haven’t evaluated the carbon impact of existing data centre services and solutions and 57% aren’t intending to evaluate future investments, meaning missed opportunities to make both carbon and financial savings.

The inrush of available capital that we have seen enter the data centre market is reflective of its promising returns and the comparative performance of other markets. This is coupled with a relatively low risk given its resilience through recent years, which is overall very positive for the short and medium term of the industry. This said, these conditions can quickly change given the influences this sector has from a range of areas such as technology, regulation, energy resources, corporate governance, and a lack of skilled people.

So, whilst this year’s state of the industry report shows that the data centre and related sectors continue to grow despite these challenges and the current global unrest, political scepticism, and economic uncertainty, it also flags that a number of common challenges still remain and these are forcing decision makers to operate differently. Our industry has a clear trilemma and the need to solve all three are equally important!

Jon HealyChief Operating Officer, Keysource

At Keysource, we specialise in helping organisations to overcome the challenges of sustainable data centre design, building and management

Speak to our team today for tailored advice and guidance on creating and operating a data centre fit for the next generation of computing.

Contact us

8 Tips to Reduce Costs of Data Centre Energy Bills

By Blog, Thought Leadership

Operating a data centre is expensive, but energy consumption is vital to the ongoing expenses of a data centre, which is one of the reasons why the industry is making such a drive for sustainability.

Today, the most significant cost of running a data centre is energy, with the average data centre spending 25% to 60% of its total expenses on energy consumption alone in the UK. It illustrates the need to act by integrating green technologies into new and legacy data centres.

What uses the most energy in a data centre?

Energy consumption is the biggest expense involved in running a data centre. This is because of the immense costs of running servers and the necessary cooling infrastructure. In fact, data centre energy consumption has grown so much that it now accounts for 3% of the global electricity supply.

So, what are the largest contributors to your data centre energy bill?

Servers/IT Equipment – Servers, storage and networking devices and peripherals are the largest energy consumers in data centres.
Cooling – Data centres generate massive amounts of heat. Advanced cooling systems, including chillers and air conditioning units, are required to prevent overheating.
Power Distributions – Data centres rely on Power Distribution Units (PDUs), including Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs), to distribute electricity and provide emergency power if outages occur.
Lighting – Whilst lighting doesn’t consume as much energy as servers and cooling systems, permanent lighting is required for maintenance, monitoring and accessibility. This fact alone means lighting contributes a large chunk to your energy expenditure.

Can data centres reduce their energy consumption?

Data centres can take action to reduce their energy consumption. Although data centres will always consume significant energy, taking steps can result in massive cost savings.
Actions like upgrading legacy technology, recycling old systems and using renewable energy sources are ways that data centres can tackle the sustainability issue.
Additionally, new data centres can focus on sustainability as part of a genuinely green data centre. The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact has already been established to set firm guidelines as to what constitutes a sustainable data centre.
For existing data centres, the path to sustainability will likely be a long-term endeavour because legacy hardware may need to be replaced within the boundaries of current budgets.

Tips on how to reduce costs of data centre energy bills

Utility bills are no small expense. Whilst some data centres may concede these as unavoidable expenses, creative problem-solving and a real commitment to sustainability can save data centres tens of thousands annually.
Follow these tips for some simple ways to reduce the cost of data centre energy bills:

Integrate modern cooling systems

Cooling systems are an enormous drain on your resources. Some estimates state that inefficient data centres could spend up to 60% of their utility bills on cooling alone.
By introducing next-generation cooling solutions however, companies can decrease their utility bills. Some ideas could include:
  • Deploying hot/cold aisle configurations.
  • Minimising bypass airflow.
  • Investing in air handlers and chillers.
Doing away with legacy cooling systems can reduce your energy wastage and allow you to take more control over environmental conditions, including temperature and humidity.

Software-powered smart design

Experts know that data centre efficiency boils down to choosing the solutions that cover the greatest workload with the lowest number of hardware pieces.
Identifying underutilised pieces of equipment and removing underused applications can lower your energy costs across the board. It’s also possible to remove “bloatware” from the equation.
Bloatware is ineffectual software that drains power from your data centre due to excessive CPU cycles.
In other words, software-powered smart design is based on limiting hardware and doing more with less.

Leveraging server virtualisation

Server virtualisation is a powerful tool enabling you to consolidate servers and storage as part of a single platform. Virtualisation allows you to segregate applications, data and operating systems.
Running applications on shared hardware via virtual machines reduces your need for space, more power, more cooling and more resources.
Note that server virtualisation cannot solve all of your problems. For example, you may still require underutilised equipment to handle peak loads. Either way, virtualisation still contributes to efficiently migrating your data centre’s workload.

Controlling airflow management

Airflow management is another crucial energy efficiency practice. For example, if your data centre has raised floors, there’s a strong possibility that you are experiencing uncontrolled air leakage. Sealing these raised floors and removing unnecessary blockages within would be one solution.
What if clutter control and underfloor blockages are irresolvable problems? In this case, consider installing overhead cable trays. According to Schneider Electric, overhead cable trays lead to a 24% reduction in cooling fan power consumption.

Switch to variable-speed fans

Another option for decreasing energy usage is moving to variable-speed fans. This move could provide a much-needed CPU fan speed reduction.
The beauty of these fans is that they only run at the required speeds when needed. This is because they operate using sophisticated thermostatic equipment.
You can apply this same principle to other devices beyond your servers. Consider examining the cooling features of hardware like UPSs.

Use liquid cooling solutions

High-performance hardware often experiences the trade-off between high-performance vs high energy consumption. This is why high-end equipment often relies on adopting liquid cooling for CPUs as standard.
Instead of using fans to move air across a heat sink, liquid cooling involves using a liquid, such as water, to dissipate heat.
Today, experts consider liquid cooling to be the gold standard of cooling when compared to air-cooling methods.

Increase the temperature

Once upon a time, raising the temperature within a data centre would be considered risky. However, equipment vendors have designed systems capable of operating at higher temperatures than usual.
Many servers can operate at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but most data centres still stick to the 65 degrees Fahrenheit guideline for temperature.
Raising the ambient temperature a few degrees can reduce your cooling systems’ power usage without impacting server performance. Moreover, taking this step requires no investment or overhead.

Power down inactive servers

Server virtualisation has demonstrated the sustainability advantages of doing more with your hardware to use less; but, why not power down entire servers that are not in use?
Too many data centres always keep them spinning because they want to have more business agility, but is it worth the thousands in costs that come with operating inactive servers?
Try searching for instances where servers can be powered down. The chances are, there may be some objections to this move, such as:
Lower Server Life Expectancy – The myth that power cycling lowers the server’s life expectancy is just that: a myth. Servers are built using the same components as hardware that’s commonly power cycled, including medical devices and vehicles.
Too Long to Power – Some people claim that servers take too long to power up. However, you can counter this by turning off boot-time diagnostic checks or booting from operational snapshots.
Customer Dissatisfaction – Users have shown they are willing to hang in there to get up and running. Most application architectures don’t decline user requests but slow them down; this has been shown to have zero impact on retention or satisfaction rates.
In short, servers are built to be switched on and off at will. If you have the budget for automation technology, you can even set up parameters that will automatically power up or down servers for maximum energy efficiency.

What is the most cost effective way to reduce energy consumption in data centres?

Upgrading your energy efficiency often means making significant investments; but, there are low-cost alternatives.
Upping the temperature is one option as part of controlled pilot experiments. On the other hand, you can also use “free” outside air-cooling to help harness the Earth’s natural resources.
Studies have shown that this option works incredibly well. For example, Intel saw a 74% reduction in power consumption after implementing free-air cooling. According to the computing giant’s findings, they saved $3 million in cost savings and used 76 million gallons of water less.

If you’re ready to reduce your energy bills for your data centre, contact the Keysource team today.

Whilst these steps can help, creating a green data centre with the help of professionals can always yield better results. Consulting with Keysource on upgrading your data centre or building a sustainable data centre from scratch can allow you to maximise efficiency opportunities.

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