Climate change a key focus of 2020 data centre trends

The rise of 5G, 4K video and blockchain will increase power consumption in the data centre, suggests the Uptime Institute. At the same time, we’re seeing public pressure for regulations aimed waste reduction, energy efficiency and renewable power.


Don’t let the pigtails fool you.

At just 17, Greta Thunberg has already sailed across oceans to speak at global climate conferences, been named Time magazine’s person of the year and publicly scolded world leaders, accusing them of stalling on environmental issues.

Her influence is even reverberating through the data centre.

Three of the Uptime Institute’s top 10 data centre trends for 2020 touch on some aspect of environmental impact. And all three of those are included here in our spotlight on five key trends from the list.

1) Climate spurs data centre regulations

Although the data centre sector has been moving toward greener operations for some time, the Institute’s report on 2020 trends says “legislators, lobbyists and the public are pressing for more.”

The Institute predicts this public pressure will lead to more regulations on data centres aimed at waste reduction, energy efficiency and renewable power.

During a webinar fleshing out the Institute’s trend predictions, its executive director of research, Andy Lawrence, said some legislation has already been enacted, mostly at the city level rather than nationally.

For example, Amsterdam’s local government has put limits on PUE (power usage effectiveness) levels for all new data centre facilities, issued a moratorium on new data centre licences until environmental impact assessments are done, and is considering new standards to require heat reuse at data centres.

In Santa Clara, Calif., data centres must now use non-fossil fuels for on-site power generation. And in the European Union, regulations come into effect in March 2020 regarding thermal reporting, recyclability and server energy use when idle. (Any servers or storage devices sold in Europe will have to meet these new EU rules.)

2) Data centres without generators

Louder cries for lower environmental impact will spur data centre designers and operators to search for alternatives to traditional generators. This won’t actually happen in 2020, but the change is coming, according to the Institute.

Lawrence said pilot projects are underway in the U.S. and Europe to test cleaner options like fuel cells and banks of large lithium-ion batteries. He believes generator alternatives will become smarter as well as greener.

“(They’ll be) combined with intelligence, whether it’s software-defined power or some other way of monitoring loads, closing loads down, moving loads and having a very good understanding of where the power use is and where the demand is,” Lawrence said.

2020 will see an increase in green tech in the data centre

3) Data centre energy use goes up (and up)

Although the International Energy Agency expects a slight dip in the amount of electricity used by the global data centre sector in 2020, the Uptime Institute begs to differ.

“We think there’s a lot of underestimating,” Lawrence said, suggesting that the rise of 5G, 4K video and blockchain will increase power consumption at data centres worldwide this year.

“There’s unprecedented demand for digital services,” added Dr. Rabih Bashroush, the Institute’s research director. He cited one estimate that every time soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo posts a photo for his 200 million Instagram followers, “it consumes 28 megawatt hours, which is enough to add 18 new households to the grid annually. That’s the scale of energy consumption we’re talking about.”

4) Outages drive authorities to act

Remember when we said earlier that calls for climate action could result in new environmental regulations on data centres? The Institute says we might also see similar legislation regarding outages.

Outages at institutions ranging from large banks to 911 emergency call centres have made governments realize that just one data centre failure ripples throughout the chain of IT interdependency among enterprises, partners, suppliers, cloud providers and hosting services.

“What this means is legislators around the world are starting to pay a lot more attention,” Lawrence said.

Read more:

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In the same way that governments have adopted laws around data privacy and sovereignty, they may consider regulations designed to prevent data centre outages, lessen their impact or recover from them more quickly.

While no laws have been drafted yet, Lawrence said last year’s terse visit by U.S. Federal Reserve officials to an AWS facility in Richmond, Va., is proof that lawmakers are digging deeper into data centres.

5) A move to the edge

We know—this trend has been a thing for a few years. In 2020, the need to process more data near the end user will drive the adoption of “many different types of data centres and networking approaches,” the Institute says.

Those include regional data centres and micro data centres, with the latter not really taking off until 2022 when 5G, IoT and other edge applications explode, according to Rhonda Ascierto, VP of research at the Institute.

Some notable stats: the majority (42 per cent) of enterprises surveyed by the Institute plan to use their own private data centres and their own edge facilities to meet the demand for edge computing capacity. The second most popular plan (17 per cent) is to use “a mix of our own private data centres and co-location options.”

You can read the Uptime Institute’s complete list of 10 data centre trends for 2020 right here.

Images: 4X-image/iStock; imaginima/iStock
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