Legacy Data Centre Modernisation is Key for Sustainability 

Legacy Data Centre Modernisation is Key for Sustainability

Andy Connor, Channel Director, EMEA, Subzero Engineering


It’s no secret that today’s data centres are designed and built to be ultra-efficient. In fact, the Uptime Institute states that “by using the latest technology and practices, most new builds fall somewhere between a PUE of 1.2 and 1.4.” 

While from a sustainability perspective that’s a positive story, often meaning that the facility will have a lower carbon footprint and thereby emit less CO2, there’s still a significant challenge to be met in the face of legacy facilities, where PUEs remain around the 2.0 mark, or higher.

Today Statista research suggests that the number of data centres in the world will actually decrease from 8.5 million in 2015 to an estimated 7.2 million by the end of this year. Such a decrease can largely be attributed to data centre consolidation, mainly due to the rise in public cloud and hyperscale facilities. In other words, more businesses are beginning to outsource their requirements to a smaller number of larger and more efficient data centres. And as hyperscale and colocation utilisation rates continue to grow, they often replace inefficient facilities operating at a higher PUE.

Nevertheless, the number of hyperscale data centres, according to Synergy Research Group, is only 541, with another 176 planned in future. Add in around 5000 colocation sites across the world, it still leaves several million ‘other’ data centres – how many of which are legacy or inefficient remains to be seen. 

At this stage, obtaining an accurate figure of global data centre numbers and type is far from an exact science, but, it is safe to say that the number of legacy sites, with a relatively high PUE, is a significant section of the market that needs urgent attention – especially in terms of sustainability.

Sustainability considerations

Today there are many sustainability drivers for legacy owners and operators to choose from. Customer interest in reducing the impacts of climate change continues to grow, governments are driving green agendas, and many members of the millennial generation continue to ask challenging questions regarding the ethics of business. 

Within the sector, hyperscalers and cloud providers characterise themselves as sustainability champions. And while renewable energy sources, innovations in power and cooling and deployment locations are all ways in which sustainability objectives can be met, the hyperscale community has a significant advantage over companies, in that their size, scale and demand are also some of the main drivers behind the build-out of new capacity.

Another factor is that data centre customers are pursuing their own sustainability agenda, where in the early days, this might have meant little more than a procurement exercise to satisfy shareholders or meet Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) requirements. Nowadays, however, more organisations are looking at the sustainability credentials of their supply chains. Questions concerning PUE, renewables and overall energy efficiency achievements may well be asked of data centre operators – whether operated on or off-premise. 

Finally, hovers the threat of tighter regulation. This could be at the local, national, regional or global level. Many high profile and influential operators are committing to Net Zero via the Climate Neutral Data Center Pact, which aims to influence legislation and decision-making at policy level across the European continent.

Of course, there are two ways to approach the intangibles of future legislation. One involves carrying on as normal, with fingers crossed that all will be OK: hiding in the hope that new rules and regulations will not be introduced. However, if they are, and an organisation has not prepared, then the disruption will be significant, and one may argue it’s completely irresponsible for a business operating in the digital infrastructure sector to bury its head in the sand. 

The other approach is to recognise that the industry will soon come under closer governmental scrutiny, and operators should be prepared ahead of the likely legislative curve. Moreover, those making the rules will see what hyperscalers are achieving voluntarily, and expect the rest of the market to meet similar standards.  

Where to begin?

Right now, if you recognise that you are a legacy data centre owner and have ambitions to become more sustainable or efficient, then a number of choices are available to you. For the enterprise market, the choices range from embarking on a major modernisation initiative within your on-premise facility, to moving more of your IT assets into hosted facilities or the cloud. 

Conversely, for colocation operators who need to improve their sustainability credentials, the only choice is to plan and execute a sustainable modernisation strategy. Or, to consider closing your existing data centre and instead build new, highly efficient facilities at an increased capital cost.

In both scenarios, understanding the extent of the challenge you face and setting your objectives are the first steps towards making what we might call a sustainable modernisation decision. However, it all starts with the data, and if you can’t measure, analyse or benchmark your current operating status, you can’t and will not improve it 

Start with the end in mind 

For many years data centre software has offered users greater analytical insight into the operating status of their mission-critical IT. In fact, its role has become so pivotal that technologies such as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) have been instrumental in the fight to reduce data centre carbon emissions. 

By beginning with a free CFD analysis and utilising the subsequent environmental report, operators can gain valuable insight into a facilities level of energy efficiency. But more importantly, they can also identify a range of modernisation solutions, which will help to improve both performance and sustainability criteria – ranging from quick fixes to long-term strategic gains. 

Such strategies may include optimising your infrastructure system by improving airflow or cooling to the racks, eliminating hotspots, increasing IT densities and operating temperatures, or deploying a containment solution to minimise wasted cooling energy. In fact, upgrading your facility with a new containment solution can improve the average data centre PUE by a figure of 0.4 – meaning lower energy usage, decreased carbon emissions and a 30 per cent reduction in operating costs. 

As the industry focuses on becoming more sustainable, I believe that beginning with legacy facility modernisation, holds the key to its success. From a strategic perspective, a modernisation plan that looks at three stages – analysis, optimisation and performance – offers many benefits to the end-user. Not least of which is a streamlined and efficient solution to help reduce your data centres carbon footprint.

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