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Data center operators urged to strengthen their reporting of carbon emissions and water use

Data center operators still fall short when it comes to tracking the environmental impact of their facilities, with most failing to monitor the carbon emitted and water used by their facilities.

That is one of the outstanding findings of the 12 years of the Uptime Institutethe annual Global Data Center Surveycompiled from responses from 800 data center owners and operators, as well as 700 data center vendors, designers, and consultants from around the world.

The results suggest that just over a third of operators (37% and 39%, respectively) collect and report data related to carbon emissions and water usage statistics for their site.

When it comes to reporting their Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions, only 17% said they collected data on the former, while 12% said they did on the latter.

This is despite the fact that 63% of operators who participated in this year’s survey said they believe that within five years the authorities within the jurisdictions in which they operate will require them to publicly report their environmental data.

On this point, the 33-page report accompanying the survey stated: “[Carbon emissions] It can quickly become an area of ​​concern for businesses, as most organizations and/or their customers will be required to report this data based on new laws, initiatives, and rules that are being implemented around the world.”

For this reason, Uptime advises operators to start reporting all data related to carbon emissions and water use now, before legal requirements come into force, as this type of data is increasingly being used. to decide whether new projects should be given the green light. Or not.

“A growing number of municipalities will allow the development of data centers only if they are designed for little or no direct water consumption,” the report continued. “These types of rules will heavily influence facility design and product choices in the future, requiring refrigeration equipment that uses water sparingly (or not at all).”

As detailed elsewhere in the report, while the industry’s track record in tracking its carbon emissions and water use is spotty, most operators are much better at collecting data on energy efficiency because of the impact that this has in the end result.

“Most operators collect data related to energy efficiency, which is as much about saving money as it is about reducing environmental impact,” the report states.

This is why 85% of respondents said they report their data center’s overall energy usage, and 73% said they also closely monitor the Usage Effectiveness score for internal or external purposes. of energy (PUE) of its facilities.

At that point, the report suggests that industry-wide PUE scores are leveling off, and have been for the past several years, after some sizable declines seen between 2007 and 2018, when the average PUE score fell from 2.5 at 1.58.

The average annual PUE score is now 1.55, which is not, as the report says, because the industry has “hit an efficiency limit,” but rather “largely reflects the widespread adoption of cost-effective efficiency measures” that prompted the big drop in PUE scores. seen since 2007.

Looking ahead, the think tank predicts that PUE scores could rise in the coming years, despite a long-term downward trend, as new server processors hit the market with high power requirements. temperature that could exceed the limits of air. cooled data centers.

“If these hotter chips become commonplace within a few years, industry average PUE may rise before falling,” the report said.

“Performance requirements and expectations around efficiency will likely drive a growing number of operators (and their IT tenants) towards direct liquid cooling (DLC). Greater adoption of DLC could contribute to further efficiency gains during the 2020s and beyond, both in new builds and upgrades.”

Respondents to the report also spoke of their desire to invest in strengthening the resiliency of their data centers, with 40% saying they have invested in improving the resiliency of infrastructure hosted at their primary sites over the past three to five years.

These investments are paying off, Uptime data suggests, as the organization sees a “steady improvement in rate of outages per site (or per respondent)” with 60% of operators saying they have experienced an outage in the last three years, which is down from 69% in 2021 and 78% in 2020.

Still, Uptime cautioned against over-reading these data points, as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have made year-over-year comparisons when it comes to data center operations difficult. “It may be too early to call this a strong trend… [and] the level of blackouts remains high, even if it is seen to be improving”.

The report states that when blackouts occur, they are becoming an increasingly higher cost of doing business for operators. “When asked about the cost of their most recent outage, a quarter of respondents said the outage had cost more than $1 million in direct and indirect costs, a significant increase from 2021 and continuing a clear trend. Another 45% say their most recent outage cost between $100,000 and $1 million.

The rising cost of outages can be attributed to a combination of factors, the report continued. “From inflation, fines, violations of service level agreements and the cost of labor, calls and parts,” he said. “But the main reason is the growing dependence of business economic activity on digital services and the data center. The loss of a critical IT service often translates directly and immediately into interrupted business and lost revenue.”

Andy Lawrence, executive director of research at Uptime Institute Intelligence, said the survey results point to the fact that the industry still has work to do on several fronts to improve the way it operates.

“The global digital infrastructure sector continues to enjoy strong growth and expansion, despite the many obstacles facing operators today,” said Lawrence.

“We have seen the industry invest in greater resiliency and reliability, but there is still work to be done when it comes to improving efficiency, environmental sustainability, outage prevention, staffing and more.”

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