The impact of data: the data centers
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THE IMPACT OF DATA: THE DATA CENTERS

By 25 January 2023 No Comments

We already know the impact that data flows have on the environment. Today, we are going to look at the storage of data. Indeed, any company that deals with a large amount of data must use a data center, internally or externally. Let’s see what effects have data centers on the planet, and how those effects could be optimized.

 

 

The pollution of data centers

Data flows don’t stop, so don’t data centers don’t either. They work 24/7 and generate a lot of heat that is then rejected into the environment. Also, the heat they generate requires cooling measures to allow them to function correctly. According to Carbo, a company specialized in reducing companies’ carbon footprints, inverters and cooling systems account for half of a data center’s energy consumption. Indeed, a data center needs the same amount of water as three hospitals, and data centers in general consume 2% of global electricity.

This level of pollution isn’t necessary, since according to professor and researcher Jonathan Koomey, who created the Koomey law on the efficiency of electronic components, a quarter of data center servers are performing useless tasks. Moreover, according to data center VDI specialist Control Up, 77% of data center servers are overequipped, meaning that there is more material operating than necessary.

Beyond the operation of data centers, there is also their construction. Data centers’ components include rare metals that are unrecyclable and often collected in unethical ways, and their construction itself emits a lot of greenhouse gas, while modifying the ecosystems where they are implanted.

However, the pollution rate of data centers isn’t inevitable, and several solutions emerge to resolve the issue their environmental impact.

 

The solutions

As a first solution, we can cite the use of virtual servers, which only operate when they are used, thus allowing the data center to save on energy. Most data centers currently are at 50% composed of virtual servers.

There is also the relocation of servers in more efficient data centers, which would allow, according to a study from the Berkeley National Laboratory, the saving of 25% of the energy consumption in data centers, if only 80% of small companies modified their infrastructure with servers more adapted to their needs.

To optimize the energy required for the operation of data centers, several solutions are now functional. There is, among other things:

  • The use of AI to detect optimization opportunities.
  • The use of renewable energy to power the data centers.
  • The diversion of the servers’ generated heat to heat other buildings or heat water. For example, the Marne-la-Vallée data center also heats an aquatic center.

 

Speaking of heat, alternative methods can be implemented regarding the cooling of data centers:

  • The « cold corridor » method, where servers are positioned to avoid mixing hot and cold air.
  • The « free cooling » method, where cold natural resources are used, for example by placing a data center in a cold country or on higher altitude.
  • The immersion of servers in oil, which absorbs up to 1,500 times more heat than air.

 

The future of data centers isn’t completely bleak energetically speaking, but the implementation of these solutions is more of a marathon than a sprint. It combines planification and innovation.

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