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LONDON, U.K., December 6, 2022

How to Make the Data Center Eco-Friendly

Q&A with Philip Dawson

Energy costs are rising. The Earth’s temperature is rising. Business context for sustainability is rising. IT leaders, and in particular infrastructure & operations (I&O) leaders, are increasingly under pressure to make their data center operations cost-efficient and environmentally sustainable.

We sat down with Philip Dawson, VP Analyst at Gartner, to learn what I&O leaders can do to reduce costs and make their data centers eco-friendly in the next few years.

Journalists who would like to speak with Philip regarding this topic can contact Laurence.Goasduff@Gartner.com. Members of the media can reference this material in articles with proper attribution to Gartner.

Q: Faced with rising energy costs, general economic inflationary costs and flattening IT budgets, what are the most cost-effective ways to run a data center today?

A: IT leaders must avoid wasting value through the premature replacement of IT infrastructure. They can do that by using real-time health analytics to maximize the useful life of data center assets. On premise data-centers and cloud providers are extending infrastructure lifecycles from 3-5 years and 5-7 years to help maximize OPEX cycles and reduce CAPEX investments tied to refresh.

Above all, the most-effective way that sustainability can reduce costs is through greater energy efficiency and optimized power consumption. The price of natural gas has increased by 700% since mid-2020, so it is paramount that I&O leaders identify where and how data center infrastructure can be optimized to consume less power, without hindering necessary business operations. 

Earlier this year, Gartner tracked the estimated data center power usage by equipment (PUE) type and found that servers and cooling and power were using the most power (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Estimated Data Center Power Use (2022)

Source: Gartner (December 2022)

To potentially reduce costs, I&O leaders should assess their server utilization. It is often less than 50%, if not as low as 20%; however,electricity is consumed 24/7. Consolidating and removing unneeded hardware should be considered because decommissioning a single server can save $500 in energy, $500 in operating system licenses, and $1,500 in hardware maintenance costs annually.

Higher-efficiency cooling techniques can be put into place, such as hot aisle/cold aisle configuration, filtered free air cooling, computational fluid dynamics analysis of airflow, or liquid cooling technologies. I&O leaders could also consider colocation to reduce or close data centers that are underutilized, inefficient or located in areas in which “greener” energy sourcing is problematic.

Using storage in various ways can reduce power consumption and enhance reliable, space-sensitive and cost-effective management of the growing active and deep-but-accessible archives. Improving server and storage consolidation and storage density, as well as choosing less-power-hungry options, such as flash, instead of spinning disks, can have an outsized effect.

Q: What can organizations do now to make their data centers eco-friendly?

A: A sustainable and eco-friendly data center is both energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. This means that I&O leaders need to introduce a strategy to reduce their organization’s carbon footprint (greenhouse gas emissions), water consumption, resource utilization and e-waste management in data centers.

Organizations can minimize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from data centers by investing in suitable GHG emissions offsetting programs rather than just depending on supply chain checks, or established token programs. Implementing a circular economy strategy and program by recycling materials to extend their life assets, harvesting parts, refurbishing, and recovering valuable and environmentally sensitive materials.

A circular economy program can ultimately help reduce carbon emissions from equipment manufacturing that makes up nearly half of IT’s carbon footprint in most organizations. In addition, it can have a two-fold result as it also scales back e-waste.

Water plays an essential role in cooling data centers, so I&O leaders should consider using water usage effectiveness (WUE) to track all sources of water used to cool data centers and move water consumption for cooling systems from potable mains fed to grey water sources, such as seawater, recycled water or rainwater collection systems. Additionally, immersion cooling systems could be used to deliver on sustainability and deploy higher levels of compute capability to strategic locations than is possible with conventional air-cooled racks.

Q: Beyond data centers, what are the first steps to reduce the environmental footprint of I&O?

A: I&O leaders are increasingly challenged to deliver sustainable IT infrastructure and operations, but lack specific guidance on where to begin. There is no universal standard that exists for reporting progress on sustainability goals in IT and measurement frameworks vary by region, industry and level of ambition.

Gartner recommends that organizations follow three steps to kick off their environmental sustainability goals:

  1. Create the baseline footprint of I&O by aggregating and tracking data such as server/storage utilization, the power usage effectiveness (PUE) of their internal data center or the one from their cloud service provider, and the number of end-user devices per employee.
  2. Establish specific and measurable IT sustainability goals and measure progress. The goals can be set around realistic targets for emissions reduction or zero waste based on the organization’s unique data. They manage their advancement by setting milestones that ensure continuous progress on goals, and remembering that sustainable business is a marathon, not a sprint. Gartner predicts that by 2024, 80% of enterprises with a sustainability strategy in which IT is material will include infrastructure, operations and cloud as a top priority for technology investment, up from less than 20% in 2022.
  3. Optimize sustainability processes and partnerships by defining a framework of accountability and formalizing policies across people, process, technologies, and business. At the people level, the CIO and I&O leader could put in place formal staff development in sustainable practices, and training programs. At the technology level, they could initiate a reuse and recycling policy and define acceptable waste streams. At the business level, they could implement SLAs with sustainable IT metrics, such as incremental energy spent per additional service level.

Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conference

Gartner analysts are sharing advice on how to build or maintain environmentally sustainable data centers at the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conferences taking place this week in Las Vegas and December 13-14 in Tokyo. Follow news and updates from these conferences on Twitter using #GartnerIO.

About Gartner

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) delivers actionable, objective insight to executives and their teams. Our expert guidance and tools enable faster, smarter decisions and stronger performance on an organization’s mission critical priorities. To learn more, visit gartner.com.

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