Top-of-Mind for Data Center Leaders: Our Environmental Legacy
Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council members discuss responsibility for the environment, and how there’s still time to make a difference.
This is the second in a series of eight blog posts reflecting the top-of-mind issues discussed during the most recent Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council meeting. Among the fourteen Advisory Council members there are five end users and eight partners. They are infrastructure leaders at hyperscale tech companies, colocation providers, mission critical equipment providers, and mission critical facility engineering, design and operation firms.
The data center industry’s environmental legacy
What is the data center industry’s environmental legacy? Will data center industry leaders owe the next generation an apology? Consensus among Advisory Council members is that there is still time to make a difference on sustainability – and that it is “our responsibility.”
One of the deepest topics of conversation during the Advisory Council meeting was responsibility – and sustainability. Why now? As one partner put it, “We are so close to the threshold. If we go beyond a two-degree rise in global temperatures the process is irreversible since CO2 stays around for 100 years. The next five years are essential. If we miss this window, we are screwed.” (Or, as Bill Paxton might put it: “Game over, man.”)
The partner added, “Sustainability is more important than ever in a world where the head of the EPA is someone who doesn’t accept global warming. It’s more important than ever to have companies that act responsibly. When the government denies the obvious then it’s up to responsible companies.”
“Sustainability is more important than ever. It’s more important than ever for companies to act responsibly.” – Click to tweet
More than one end user expressed a feeling of responsibility for the environment. “We [hyperscale end users] are scaling more rapidly than any industry before us has. We’re shaving down mountains and bulldozing trees. But what are we doing collectively rather than individually, bad or good? What kind of world are we leaving for our kids?”
There was broad agreement around the potentially tremendous power in the collective of the Infrastructure Masons. As one end user described, “People have said to us [hyperscale end users], ‘We trust your company more than we trust the government to look out for the environment.’” Another end user agreed, adding, “If we move as an industry to try to change this stuff it’s so much more powerful. The government isn’t going to take care of this. It is our responsibility.”
Infrastructure Masons founder and chairman Dean Nelson asked the group, “Five years from now when they call on iMasons, what are they calling on us to do? That’s why we’re a group of individuals, not company representatives. What we do as part of Infrastructure Masons shouldn’t change when we change jobs, because we can have an impact regardless of what company we work at.”
Another end user said, “What are we doing that will truly change the world – collectively not just individually. Now how do we actually change the future?” The same end user shared the emotional experience of writing a letter to his kids describing his legacy. Would his letter be just two words long? “I’m sorry.”
“What are we doing that will truly change the world – collectively, not just individually? How do we actually change the future?” – Click to tweet
It’s essential to think beyond our own borders, said one partner. “Let’s stop looking at the U.S. government. We’re global. What we do impacts people all over the world. Our supply chains are global. Our impact is global.”
Another partner agreed. “If we build in emerging markets like we’ve built in the U.S., it will be completely unsupportable and it will cast a dark cloud over us in those markets. But if you flip it you could go into emerging markets and not only have all the benefits of the data center but also additional benefits like clean water.”
There was broad agreement among partners and end users that the data center industry needs to “move away from using water.” One partner said his data center cooling technology could actually clean water. “Data centers could be part of the solution to key challenges, like clean water access, in emerging markets. You can actually clean water so the data center doesn’t need potable water. Imagine data centers grabbing ditch water and cleaning it for the local community instead of going in and saying ‘We want 100 million gallons of potable water for our data center.’”
Renewables and efficiency
There was broad agreement among the Advisory Council members that sustainability means increasing adoption of renewable energy to power the data center as well as increasing the efficiency of energy and water use.
For example, one partner explained how he is working with customers to procure green energy – for the company’s colocation facilities and even its customers’ other facilities. Another partner, also a colocation provider, talked about focusing on efficiency to reduce the amount of energy the data center consumes.
“Sustainability means increasing adoption of renewable energy and increasing the efficiency of energy and water use.” – Click to tweet
Both partners are focused on reducing water consumption in the data center, applying innovating cooling methods to achieve that. And both agree that Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) is an important metric to include as part of the Data Center Performance Index (DCPI). Taking climate zone into account for WUE is as important as taking it into account for PUE.
An industry-wide standard
Efficiency and environmental impact are two of the three metrics currently included in the Data Center Performance Index (the other is availability). All three metrics are valuable factors for site selection, said one end user, who called site selection a key top-of-mind issue. One partner said, “Finding an objective, quantifiable metric for evaluating performance and risk is enormously important in any business but particularly the data center business.”
“Finding an objective, quantifiable metric for evaluating performance and risk is enormously important in any business but particularly the data center business.” – Click to tweet
But partners expressed concern about maintaining the legitimacy of the standard without turning Infrastructure Masons into a bureaucratic auditing body. “We’re talking about having people self-report their metrics but that is potentially challenging because there is an inherent benefit to looking better. There’s an incentive not to report bad metrics. So DCPI scores have to be audited, but how do you do that without significant overhead? That’s a challenge for the group – how to make it so people don’t have a disincentive to report bad metrics but still be lean and not turn into a big bureaucracy.”
Having an industry standard like the DCPI can be a strong step toward making the data center industry’s environmental legacy a positive one. But it’s only one step. There’s still time to make a difference, but the time to act is now.
Come back next week for the 3rd installment in our top-of-mind series and hear from the Advisory Council on shifting power and shifting priorities.
Previous post in the top-of-mind series
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