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By 16 November 2021 | Categories: feature articles

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By Jim Holland Regional Director – Africa, Lenovo Infrastructure Solutions Group

Anyone in South Africa will be intimately familiar with the current energy crisis. Load shedding affects us all, personally at home and commercially at our offices, factories and places of work. Energy costs are increasing exponentially, and everyone needs to be cognizant of this reality.

We know that energy efficiencies in data centres is high in the list of priorities for decision makers, executives and business as a whole and increasing R&D exponentially and power efficiency is a major area of focus for development for myself and my teams.

Given the volatile and uncertain nature of the global business landscape over this last year or so, it’s encouraging to see enterprises are taking the opportunity to re-evaluate their operating models and think imaginatively about how to do business better. While the chief priorities include building greater efficiency, flexibility and resiliency into operations, there’s rarely a conversation I have with enterprise leaders these days where the environment and sustainability for the future isn’t given particular emphasis.

In a recent blog, my Lenovo colleague, Tikiri Wanduragala, a senior consultant for ISG’s server systems division, told us that sustainability has been given greater prominence on the corporate agenda for much of the past decade and is now front of mind across enterprise sectors. This has been boosted by ongoing news coverage around climate change, and industry-wide commitments such as ‘The Paris Agreement’, leading to a groundswell of demand from customers and the public at large.

And things don’t look different here in South Africa. Here, there is a general increase in the uptake of green technologies in response to the rapidly rising costs of electricity and the increase in pressure as a result of load-shedding.

In the post-lockdown economy, many local businesses are embracing the opportunity to integrate sustainability into the fabric of their data centre operations, both as a business win and for the benefit of society, and to define their pathway to zero-emission computing.

5 priority areas for sustainable data centre operations

Sustainability isn’t only about taking incremental steps to reduce carbon emissions and resource consumption. It’s a mindset that permeates organisational culture. As national IT organisations, we have a collective responsibility to set the benchmarks and operate in a way that creates a positive impact on workforces, society, and the environment, even as operations grow and flourish.

Enterprise decision makers need to balance the growing demand for IT with rising expectations around environmentally responsible operations. Here are five areas of focus that can help align data centre operations with sustainability goals.

  1. Reduce the resource impact of data

Data is growing at an exponential rate. While the potential utility of data makes it a powerful asset, a lack of strategy around its accumulation can quickly turn it into a liability. Currently, around 1% of global electricity is used to power data centres and as we progress towards a world where data is projected to grow to 463 exabytes of data created every day by 2025, electricity consumption could multiply rapidly.

The energy impact goes beyond just the electrical. In fact, data management can have ramifications on another key resource: water. According to a US Government report, a data centre will need on average around 1.8litres of water for every kWh consumed, predominantly for air conditioning purposes. That is a huge amount that only increases with greater data demands, meaning that companies need to start adopting processes that drastically reduce their levels of water consumption.

As part of the process of reducing resource consumption, enterprises need to consider how they manage the infrastructure that underpins their data operations. Moving from wasteful legacy IT models towards infrastructure built with energy efficiency in mind is a positive first step. For example, we recommend Liquid Cooling Technology in for larger data centres to reduce energy consumption by up to 40%, whilst maintaining uncompromised performance.

  1. Create a circular product lifecycle

For any company involved in IT management, the notion of the circular economy has taken on greater importance. This seeks to reduce the use of materials and energy in manufacturing products and then recover as much of the end products as possible through reuse and recycling.

The data centre industry is one where many thousands of servers and other pieces of hardware are deemed to be ‘end of life’ each year. To reduce the risk of environmentally damaging waste, the industry needs to set a high bar in terms of recycling, reusing or repairing 100% of equipment stopping it from ending up as landfill. In our operations, we practice a ‘Design-Use-Return’ model to cover everything from products and packaging, manufacturing and operations and product take-back and value recovery.

  1. Set aggressive targets

Becoming a sustainable business requires accountability. This can be done by putting your reputation at stake, holding yourself to high standards and making that commitment to stakeholders. Once you publicly set your targets, there’s no backing away. We discovered the success of this approach more than a decade ago, setting the 2020 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% - a target we surpassed through a 92% reduction. We’ve now set our sights on a further 50% reduction by 2030.

Another way of achieving this is to commit to industry-recognised sustainability initiatives. These initiatives help to raise the bar for all organisations and encourage those that commit to review and adapt their operations in line with their obligations. We recently signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), the first ever science-based Net-Zero Standard for emissions reduction which will combat the current inconsistencies that surround net-zero targets and enable consistent measurement and evaluation of a company’s emissions reduction.

  1. Put measurement in place to track progress

The data centre may be the backbone to our IT infrastructure but the energy consumption is reportedly increasing 12% annually. So, it’s crucial for companies to demand greater efficiency from how data centres are powered.

Given that data centre operations can often dominate all IT energy consumption, it’s vital for today’s enterprises to get measurement under control. The range of metrics that can be tracked, such as water usage, electric consumption and use of renewable energy, offer wide avenues for energy savings. Understanding how you’re measuring environmental efforts and what metrics you need to see moving in the right direction will help to show whether you are really making progress.

  1. Optimise your supply chain

Supply chain has been a major global focus over recent times, and data centres, like any other complex structure, are dependent upon strong supply chains. Equipment failures rely on robust supply chain management to replenish inventories.

These considerations are not only important from a business continuity perspective, but also in ensuring energy efficient logistics and in reducing the risk of wasted energy due to unanticipated downtime. Companies are looking to their supply chains to drive sustainability to cut costs, strengthen business and mitigate environmental risks. This includes incorporating transport methods such as trains in place of planes and reducing the distance that products travel along a supply chain. By distributing production to more local facilities, companies can cut the number of steps and dependencies required to get the product from factory to customer and lower the fuel consumption required as a result.

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