Eco-friendly Data Centres Demand Hybrid Cloud Sustainability

With COP28’s talking points echoing globally, sustainability commitments and efforts to reduce our environmental footprint are top of mind for businesses, and many companies are choosing to put the latest technology front and centre in their sustainability plans.

Hitachi Vantara research from 2023 speaking to 1000 businesses globally endorsed this, finding that the top four steps companies are taking to improve sustainability all involve technology: decarbonising their data centres; harnessing the latest technology solutions to reduce their carbon footprint; shifting to alternative energy sources, and ensuring energy efficient buildings, plants and equipment.

According to the same research, nearly four out of five IT leaders have developed plans for achieving net zero carbon emissions, with 60% saying the creation of eco-friendly data centres is a top priority. Also earlier this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that data centres account for 1-1.5% of global electricity use. Energy is required for data storage, data workloads and compute instances, and data centre IP traffic. Energy is also needed for power cooling and ventilation systems – accounting for around 30% of energy consumption – and to run the building itself.

In short, minimise the impact of running the IT infrastructure, and you will greatly contribute to having a more sustainable business.

The importance of the shift to sustainability

But that’s not a straightforward task. Even some of the more mature companies on this journey have lessons to learn, and with the story still being written in terms of the growing computing demands of artificial intelligence, there are many unknowns.
To better understand why this is so important and where companies are on the sustainability roadmap, the Hitachi Vantara research identified a hierarchy of “eco-data leaders” based on the progress their companies have made building and implementing an eco-friendly data centre.

It found that this group are more likely to associate sustainability with value creation, rather than purely a regulatory compliance exercise. Building an eco-friendly data centre presents greater opportunities to grow their business, attract investment, meet customer expectations, and optimise costs.

On the latter point, large companies (those with a revenue of over $10 billion) can reap the biggest cost savings from becoming eco-data leaders, with their annual data centre operating costs coming in at $9.8 million. By comparison, other companies of similar size spent about $20.2 million – more than twice as much. The benefits of an efficient data centre are therefore clear.

A strategy supported by the cloud

Companies are using a wide range of strategies to make this sustainable change, but the most common is to migrate data to the cloud – a tactic used by 45% of those surveyed in the Hitachi Vantara research. Although many companies are gaining a host of benefits from this approach, enterprises reliant on hybrid cloud solutions must ensure that this technology properly contributes to a sustainable future. Cloud deployment without a robust strategy could mean carbon emissions become more difficult to track, and that the business has less control over the steps taken to create a sustainable data centre.

In order to successfully overhaul data centre infrastructure and data management practices with the support of the cloud, strategies such as eliminating hot spots and excess energy usage, enhancing cooling systems and properly removing electrical waste should be explored. It’s steps like these, taken to intelligently optimise workloads in the hybrid cloud setup, that will help to make a difference to reducing energy consumption overall.

This transformation will likely be a key focus for organisations in the year ahead, moving from a “nice to have” to an absolute necessity. A sustainable hybrid cloud strategy won’t just align with business goals; ultimately, it will drastically lower energy costs and streamline data management operations to improve efficiency, protect resources, and substantially curb environmental impact.

Inspiring innovation and action

It’s clear that the stakes are high, and with many benefits available to unlock, it will be the fastest movers that will have the biggest rewards.

Looking again at the eco-data leaders, they are the ones most likely to share the responsibility of sustainability across the entire leadership level. That’s something that all businesses can learn from: data centre sustainability should be a team effort. The entire C-suite should contribute to the strategy, as well as outside experts who can help map out options using modern hybrid technologies.

All this should be a process driven by a thirst for innovation – not just to tick the compliance box. So, although cloud migration may feature in your plans to build a sustainable data centre, there should also be thought given to how emissions will be tracked and how improvements can be implemented on-premise. For example, can the business use smarter approaches to making cooling systems more efficient and reduce hot spots, or can it increase the use of high-performance network attached storage (NAS), which allows data storage and retrieval from a central location?

There is no “one and done” approach. Achieving the optimal balance of workload placement, which will change as business requirements change, and maintaining a flexible operational approach across multiple environments is critical. Technology choices that provide the agility to enable innovation whilst also delivering on immediate needs for flexible consumption which supports sustainability goals are key.

Top management already recognises the need for change, but they are in various states of making that change happen. Looking to 2024, organisations should remember that this transformation not only presents a golden opportunity to create a better and more sustainable business, but to get ready for a future that will continually be transformed by technology.

Lynn Collier
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Lynn is the EMEA Solutions Manager at Hitachi Vantara

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