6 Expert Insights on Data Center Sustainability

Achieving measurable progress on IT sustainability has become a business imperative, and a range of tech solutions, from colocation to edge services, can help

6 Expert Insights on Data Center Sustainability

Sustainability has become an important business priority—in fact, according to the latest Equinix Global Tech Trends Survey, 69% of tech decision-makers indicate that sustainability is now one of their organization’s most important drivers, and 65% say they’ll only work with IT partners who can meet key carbon reduction targets. Companies must now demonstrate a commitment to sustainability to ensure business growth and maintain competitive advantage.  

We reached out to several industry experts and asked them for insights on how companies can concentrate their efforts to reduce carbon output in relation to their IT footprint. From leveraging AI to measure CO₂ emissions, to choosing the right ecosystem partners, to data center colocation, these experts have valuable insights on how organizations can build a more sustainable IT footprint for the future. Read on for their thoughts and recommendations on sustainability in the enterprise—today and tomorrow. 

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Dr. Sally Eaves, Global Strategic Advisor in Emergent Technologies and Founder of Aspirational Futures – @SallyEaves

The Equinix Global Tech Trends Survey findings demonstrate just how far sustainability considerations have moved center stage across multiple industry verticals. With commitment and capacity to meet key carbon reduction targets now a prerequisite to secure IT partnerships for some 65% of global decision-makers, focusing on the how of reducing carbon emissions from IT footprints is critical. First, measurement matters! This is core to moving beyond transparency around environmental, social and governance (ESG) outcomes to true accountability.   

Commitments to reducing CO₂ emissions, alongside the reduction of water consumption and waste, is an important step, but there can be an intention-action gap where measurement is infrequent, not comprehensive enough or too manual. The Boston Consulting Group recently identified that 86% of organizations still record and report on their emissions manually using spreadsheets. The same survey found that implementing AI-supported tools can help companies understand the full breakdown of their emissions and advance their measurement and tracking capabilities by up to 40%.  

Additionally, science-based targets provide an evidence-based litmus test when it comes to corporate carbon credibility and climate risk management, and it’s very encouraging to see the Equinix finding that 69% of research participants are making commitments to these advanced measures. Beyond this, greater ecosystem collaboration to improve standardization across ESG reporting is key to helping consumers, employees and ecosystem partners alike make more conscious and comparable choices—indeed, alongside technology, it’s education and trusted information that are core drivers for behavioral change that lasts. 

"With commitment and capacity to meet key carbon reduction targets now a prerequisite to secure IT partnerships for some 65% of global decision-makers, focusing on the how of reducing carbon emissions from IT footprints is critical."

Milind Wagle, Chief Information Officer, Equinix – @MilindWagle

Sustainability is not only a competitive differentiator but a foundational requirement for all businesses. IT plays a crucial role in delivering environmental sustainability initiatives. CIOs are increasingly becoming aware and proactive about reducing the carbon footprint of the digital infrastructure that powers our organizations. For example, at Equinix, we’re looking at opportunities for technology to make our business strategy and customer impact greener:

  • Investing in modern technologies: We’re mindful of leveraging the right cloud and virtualization platforms to host our infrastructure. We focus on modernizing our architecture and business processes since legacy infrastructure and equipment consumes more energy.    
  • Better asset management: We have a unique opportunity to make an impact through better lifecycle tracking of our infrastructure assets (hardware and software) from the cradle to the grave by ensuring optimization, recycling and reuse.    
  • Using data to drive accountability for sustainability: IT can play a critical role in making data available to the enterprise via dashboards and reports that support immediate and actionable intelligence.       

"At Equinix, we’re looking at opportunities for technology to make our business strategy and customer impact greener by: Investing in modern technologies; Better asset management; and Using data to drive accountability for sustainability."

Keith Townsend, CEO and Founder, The CTO Advisor – @CTOAdvisor

Measure twice, cut once. The saying applies not only to carpentry but to IT systems. Customers should first focus on measuring the key performance indicator (KPI) that matters most in their sustainability programs. Once the KPI is well understood, customers should adopt tooling that enables the automation of tracking sustainability efforts. Lastly, customers must make selecting platforms that support sustainability simple. For example, if developers have options for deploying in a private cloud with renewable energy versus a public cloud provider with less obvious sustainable energy, the orchestration system can decide based on the organization’s priorities. 

"Customers should first focus on measuring the key performance indicator (KPI) that matters most in their sustainability programs."

Maribel Lopez, Founder & Principal Analyst, Lopez Research – @MaribelLopez

Sustainability is a challenging topic but a great opportunity. First, companies can increase efficiency by using elastic cloud services and autoscaling features to minimize unused computer resources. A second strategy is to run batch workloads during times when grid carbon intensity is lower and look for opportunities to place workloads in areas where the providers use renewable energy. I’m excited by the future of liquid cooling because water and other liquids are far more efficient at transferring heat than air. We also shouldn’t overlook the benefits of edge computing, which helps with sustainability by eliminating some of the energy that would be used in moving data back and forth for analytics.   

Many firms have signed up for substantial reductions in carbon emissions by 2030 to 2040. All companies will use methods to track the sustainability of the computing products and services they’re purchasing. I encourage companies to design models that include everything from laptop sustainability to energy reduction from infrastructure and connectivity providers. While we don’t yet have a generally accepted method for tracking items such as Scope 1 through Scope 3 carbon emissions reduction across technology providers, purchasers should still ask for observability tools.  

"Sustainability is a challenging topic but a great opportunity. I’m excited by the future of liquid cooling because water and other liquids are far more efficient at transferring heat than air."

Elias Khnaser, Chief of Research at EK Media Group – @ekhnaser

Achieving sustainability goals will be about partner selection and the organization’s willingness to make the necessary changes. For example, the first thing that organizations must do is move their on-premises data center into a colocation facility. Of course, selecting the right partner that is making the right investments will be key.  

Additionally, connecting to the right digital ecosystem partners will be crucial. Organizations must research and select digital ecosystem partners that share their passion and dedication to sustainability and clean energy. Since more and more organizations will increase their usage of as-a-service, the responsibility will fall to these organizations to make the right choice of partners. The major hyperscale cloud providers all have sustainability goals; therefore, the usage of cloud services will also contribute to increased sustainability goals. 

"Achieving sustainability goals will be about partner selection and the organization’s willingness to make the necessary changes."

Leanne Starace, SVP Global Solutions Architecture and Engineering, Equinix  

Enterprises can “green” their digital supply chain simply by working with partners that have made a commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy consumption within a fixed timeframe. In addition, a commitment to science-based targets shows that a partner is aligned to the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and is taking a leading role in pursuing those goals.  

Greener building design is also essential to any business’ sustainability efforts. Before choosing to work with a colocation provider or any other partner, businesses should evaluate the partner’s buildings based on power usage effectiveness (PUE). Partners that have been proactive about adopting sustainability innovations, including fuel cells, airflow management and high-density liquid cooling, will likely be able to demonstrate how those innovations directly contribute to a lower PUE. Service providers can pass that energy efficiency on to their customers, helping them achieve their decarbonization goals. 

Reducing the environmental impact of your IT 

Sustainability is on the mind of nearly every tech decision-maker today, and working with digital infrastructure partners that are dedicated to renewable energy can make a sizeable difference in getting organizations on their way to achieving their own climate-related goals. Equinix, the world’s digital infrastructure company™, is committed to reducing environmental impact as we build the data centers of the future. In fact, Equinix is already well on its way to achieving its commitment to 100% renewable energy. As of 2021, the company was using 95% clean energy in Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers 

To see the full results of the 2022 Global Tech Trends Survey, read the report highlights. 

To learn more about sustainability at Equinix, access the Equinix 2021 sustainability report 

 

 

"Enterprises can “green” their digital supply chain simply by working with partners that have made a commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy consumption within a fixed timeframe."

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