What’s fuelling our data?

October 22, 2019 //By Simone Bruckner
In 2018, Chinese data centres produced 99 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), generating the equivalent environmental footprint of around 21 million cars. With global data traffic more than doubling every four years, it’s no surprise that the environmental impact of data centres is coming under scrutiny.

Data technology is usually perceived as positive for the environment — think smart metres, predictive analytics and autonomous vehicles. In fact, even the notion of ‘The Cloud’ invites thoughts of crispness and clean air. However, the reality is that data centres consume a lot of energy. As the uptake of cloud computing continues to increase at a rapid pace, more companies are relying on dedicated facilities to collect, store, process and distribute data. If data is going to continue to act as the powerhouse of the information revolution, evaluating its inefficiencies is crucial.


Power hungry

China’s data centre sector makes up eight per cent of the global market and is the second largest in the world. There are data centres everywhere, whirring away unseen across the globe. The biggest, covering over a million square feet, can consume as much power as a city of as many people.

The energy required to run a data centre can be broken down broadly into the power consumed by computing resources and that of supporting infrastructure, such as cooling systems. Typically, server rooms in data centres are cooled using classic ambient air-cooling with cold water-recirculation coolers. For high power applications, water-cooled racks are also used.


Brighter skies

Businesses are working to address the efficiency issue. In fact, there are a number of companies jostling for the title of greenest technology company. Both Apple and Google claim to run on 100 per cent renewable energy, while Microsoft announced that it is ahead of schedule to hit its target of 60 per cent renewable energy in its data centres by 2020. Renewables of choice for data centres include rooftop solar, wind, geothermal and waste heat reclamation.

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