Why is energy efficiency in data centres so important?
Data centres are the brains of the internet. They process, store and communicate all the data behind the many information services we use every day: social media, email, video, online collaboration, scientific computing, and more.
All the servers, storage drives, and network devices data centres use to provide these services run on electricity. All that electricity generates heat, which must be removed by cooling equipment – which also runs on electricity. The biggest data centres require 100 megawatts of power – as much as 80,000 houses.
As the world moves increasingly online, concern is growing about the energy used by data centres, which are currently responsible for about 1% of the world’s electricity use. However, despite the exponential growth in internet use, this figure has remained relatively stable since 2010, thanks to the increasing energy efficiency of devices and cooling systems, and the use of server virtualisation software.
But there are also concerns about data centres’ CO2 emissions, which are currently impossible to estimate accurately, as only a very few industry-leading companies like Apple, Google and Facebook report these figures publicly.
And as demand for information services – especially compute-intensive applications such as AI – continues to soar, there’s a risk that it will outpace gains in efficiency. Investment in next-gen computing, storage and cooling technologies, as well as renewable power sourcing, will be needed.
This will call for improved modelling capabilities to enable energy planners and policymakers to predict and solve future issues more effectively. Analysts across the world will need to work together to make the following steps a reality:
- Develop reliable data sources on energy use and energy efficiency in data centres.
- Share and compare models to provide a solid basis for the development of best practice.
- Develop methods of modelling emerging trends like AI, 5G and edge computing to provide early insights into their energy use.
- Gather and share more reliable data for the Asia Pacific region, especially China, where data centre use is rapidly growing.
- Develop better methods of analysis of next-gen computing, storage and cooling to accelerate investment in more energy-efficient technologies.
Following these steps successfully will help to ensure a green internet for the future.