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In the past 10 years, the capacity of the world's data centers has more than quadrupled. Servers can store and process more than 8 zettabytes globally as of today. It accelerates digital transformation and new business opportunities. However, it consumes a tremendous amount of energy. This blog discusses the environmental impact of large data centers and best practices to use those resources more efficiently.
Why are data centers environmentally relevant?
The ICT technology (servers, networks, terminals) produces from 2,5% to 3,7% of global CO2 emissions, putting it in the same range as commercial aviation (3,5%). In the United States, data centers account for nearly 1.8% of electricity use. The volume of emissions depends on electricity demand (to run the servers), water consumption (to cool the servers), and the lifetime of the physical servers (impact through replacements).
There are several different factors that impact the consumption of resources:
1. Deployment method (cloud/hybrid/on-premises)
The larger a data center is, the more efficiently it typically operates. That is why the CO2 footprint per square meter of hyperscale cloud providers like AWS, Azure or Google Cloud is 5 times smaller than an internal data center. The same logic applies to water consumption. Hyperscale data centers are 6 times more water-efficient compared to internal ones. As for amortization, the fewer devices you have, the less hardware you need to repair or replace. As a rule, a server should be replaced every 3 to 5 years (depending on how intensively it's used), so in the end, purchasing fewer devices not only cuts costs but also reduces environmentally harmful emissions.
2. Energy consumption per server
It is important to precisely measure the energy consumption of your servers. On the hardware side, best practice is to use highly efficient components (e.g., SSDs instead of HDDs). On the software side, virtualization can be a driver of energy efficiency. For instance, VMware claims that every virtualized server saves up to 7,000 kWh electricity per year. Instead of operating many servers at low utilization, virtualization combines the processing power onto fewer servers that operate much more efficiently.
Moreover, you must check for any idle or underutilized servers that can be turned off, repurposed, or optimized. To do so, you need an overview of what software you are using. Large organizations often tend to over-purchase software licenses leading to ineffective or unnecessary software usage within the data centers. As a result, you need more servers, VMs, storage, and energy to power it all. By reducing or optimizing software usage, you can decrease the number of devices and reduce the environmental impact of your IT infrastructure. USU Discovery provides you with a detailed and real-time overview of what devices and software your company is using.
3. Electricity source
The availability of different energy sources for your data centers depends on their location. Using renewable energy providers can significantly reduce your emissions. If your data center is on the cloud, you can use the provider's measurement tools or documentation to estimate the ecological impact. Cloud providers vary in their investments in carbon-free energy depending on their location. So, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, you can select to host in a more environmentally friendly region.
The Data Discovery Pain in the As-a-Service
What you can do right now
There are some simple things you can do right away to reduce your server usage and cut your carbon footprint:
- Switch to environmentally friendly electricity providers – it will not only reduce your carbon footprint, but also decrease air and water pollution, protect natural habitats, and support the development of sustainable communities.
- Conduct a thorough inventory of your IT environment - this will allow you to identify where excess servers have been installed and assess whether they’re necessary.
- Implement a reduction strategy – reduce the number of servers in your IT environment by either depreciating underused servers, using more efficient physical and virtual technologies, or moving to a public cloud.
- Avoid redundant software - using only relevant software helps to improve energy efficiency, reduce resource waste, and eventually decrease your carbon footprint.
Your organization (still) lacks precise visibility of what hardware devices and software are running? Let our SAM solution shed some light and ask for a demo now.
Nikita is product manager at USU working for USU Software Asset Management. In his role he is responsible for the USU solutions Oracle Optimization and SAM Analytics. His career expertise includes software development, administration of databases, data flow architecture, data analysis and automation.