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Feature - 12 March 2020 (ComputerWeekly)

Lean, mean and green: the datacentres of the future

It’s not easy being lean, although doing more with less sounds simple enough. The sustainability-seeking datacentre operator needs to pinpoint waste and reduce it, without losing value from other parts of the system. Yet the race is on to support more capacity and high-performance computing than ever.

“The industry wrestles with capacity challenges and advanced applications that are forcing significant changes to datacentres of all shapes and sizes,” says Vertiv CEO Rob Johnson. “The message to datacentre equipment providers is clear: the status quo is not acceptable.”

According to French thinktank The Shift Project’s 90-page Lean ICT report 2019, digital energy consumption rose globally by 9% per year between 2015 and 2020, with digital technology expected to be responsible for about 8% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2025.The thinktank’s research pegged the average 1MW, 1000m2 datacentre in 2019 as achieving a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 2.0. Meanwhile, risk-averse operators typically err on the side of maximum uptime and can be over-provisioned.

Jennifer Cooke, research director of the cloud-to-edge datacentre trends team at IDC, notes that although many are making sustainability announcements, there’s still a lot of waste to reduce before considering entirely new solutions.

“Are you making good use of the energy you have? You can have giant facilities cooled down to the temp of a meat locker, only using 40% of the space, with 25-30% of the servers running with no one knowing what they’re contributing to,” she tells ComputerWeekly.

Datacentre operators probably have more of an understanding than other businesses – and they can have a relatively standardised environment, with tighter controls and processes than mainstream enterprises. Large hyperscalers may be able to devote a whole area to high-performance computing (HPC) – other enterprises may need to have it next to general business applications that must be kept running.

New technology will be required to tackle that disruption, confirms Cooke, but small tweaks over time can trim a lot of fat and add up to big cost savings.

“Liquid cooling has a lot of promise. It’s kind of new in the datacentre, but more workloads are trying on AI [artificial intelligence], GPUs and so on, heating up the datacentre,” she says...


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