Our Green Future: Why a Digital-First World needs Zero-Carbon Data Centers
Article by Jeff Yan Jianfeng, Global Brand Director, Huawei Digital Power Technologies Co., Ltd.
Autonomous driving and automation, in general, are creating unprecedented efficiency and a seemingly insatiable demand for data. This phenomenon has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated the push for digitalization, especially in industry. Data centers are an inseparable part of our digital-first consumer and industry life. But it comes at a cost: High energy consumption and carbon emissions in an industry that is seeing an explosion of high-density and large-scale development cannot be sustained and new, energy-efficient solutions are essential. If we hope to keep up with demand, we need to shift to greener data centers and we need to do it now.
First, let’s consider how data center spending is set to increase. Figures from Dell’Oro Group 2022 Predictions suggest a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% and global data center CAPEX is on track to reach US$350 billion by 2026. Growth areas include demand for increased cloud capacity and the roll-out of AI infrastructure, adoption of new server CPU platforms, and accelerated computing. Edge computing alone will account for 8% of infrastructure spending
Second, let’s look at some of the factors driving this growth. IDC’s worldwide Future of Digital Infrastructure top 10 predictions, highlight that digital infrastructure strategies must address resiliency and trust; data-driven operational complexity; and business outcomes-driven sourcing and autonomous operations. By 2024, 75% of G2000 digital infrastructure RFPs will require vendors to prove progress on ESG/Sustainability initiatives with data, as CIOs rely on infrastructure vendors to help meet ESG goals and by 2025, 70% of companies will invest in alternative computing technologies to drive business differentiation by compressing time to value of insights, from complex data sets.
In Asia, top markets for data centers include Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, Seoul, and Tokyo with a current 1.3 gigawatts under construction in APAC and 100-megawatt campuses becoming common. Singapore was ranked first based on criteria such as market size, fiber connectivity, cloud availability, and the country’s ‘pro-business policies’. However, high carbon emissions and power consumption has resulted in strict policy measures in some countries regarding new data centers. For example in China, both Beijing and Shanghai have prohibited new data center projects with new projects now situated in northern and western parts of the country.
Most nations have already developed their own vision of what a digital economy looks like. Cloud computing, big data, and AI are being adopted as a core part of digital transformation for businesses and governments and data storage is needed more than ever. The “Uptime Institute 2021 Data Center Industry Survey Results explains that since 2014, the power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of large data centers around the world (determined by calculating the ratio of the energy used as a whole as compared with the energy used by just the IT equipment alone) which should be 1.0 or below has remained around 1.6 for seven consecutive years. Put simply, these data centers use more energy and cost more money to run than it should.
With global commitments to achieve zero carbon by 2030, low carbonization of data centers may seem inevitable. However, the challenge is how to achieve this. There are four core trends for the future direction of data centers.
- Low-carbon and sustainable: The benefits of data centers to society must include sustainability and energy efficiency. This will include the large-scale application of clean energy, the development of carbon-reduction technologies such as PV and energy storage, and how the entire life-cycle of a product including recovering waste heat and recovery of materials managed.
- Simplified: Hardware convergence has become is enabling simplified architecture using prefabricated buildings and modular equipment rooms, simplified power supplies removing physical connections to simplified cooling and heating systems. Using this approach drastically cuts the delivery time down. A data center with 1,000 racks can be delivered in as little as six to nine months, down from a wait time of at least 18 months.
- Autonomous driving: Removing people from O&M creates a safer environment and enhances inspection speeds. Other benefits will include energy optimization such as smart cooling; scheduling of green power, energy storage, and backup power.
- Secure and reliable: Secure by design, data centers can minimize disruption via the adoption of AI predictive maintenance
Solving the challenge of growing demand for data with low-carbon solutions, Huawei’s next-gen simplified, green, intelligent, and secure data center infrastructure solution is only one of the solutions. We need to consider green from the source of the power supply. We also need to consider how to improve the measurement of energy use. For example, PUE provides just one indicator but we should consider water efficiency (WUE) and carbon (CUE) as more comprehensive indicators.
Reducing carbon emissions is essential for the industry and an area in which innovation focuses on converging software and hardware as well as cross-product-domain collaboration. With our digital transformation and our digital-first lives, low-carbon is not just an industry imperative but essential for our green future.
The views in this article is that of the author and do not reflect the views of Tech Wire Asia.